Saturday, March 25, 2006
Vocabulary Lessons: Red Corner Asia, Thai Town
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do think I have a pretty good command of the English language. Uh, that is until I've eaten at the second restaurant in two weeks whose name contains the word "corner" and isn't located on a corner.
Now that I think about it, maybe it was those stupid Princeton Review SAT classes that my mother sent me to when I was in high school. Yeah, the Princeton Review. For SAT's. Where every Saturday morning for like two months we'd go to this community center in Berkeley and listen to this hippie chick with hairy armpits talk about the best ways to use process of elimination. They did teach us some Latin word roots, but my thing about vocabulary is that if you don't know it, you don't know it. Like they're really going to teach you the whole dictionary in 30 hours of class.
"Do you guys know what a conflagration is?" Hippie Chick asked.
The class looked puzzled.
"It's just a big mother fucking fire!" she exclaimed.
I'll give Hippie Chick credit for that, because to this day I've never forgotten what a conflagration is.
OK, so though I've done quite a bit of reading in my lifetime, vocabulary has never been my strong suit. I don't like to use it; in fact, I think my brain has a natural block towards big, flowery words. Hey, but I did score in the 1300's on my SAT's, not too shabby, huh? Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to get me into what the Chinese call See-tahn-faht (Stanford) or Hah-fuht (Harvard). Sorry Mom, I know you meant well. But I did manage to get into UCLA, right? And I know what a conflagration is!
Well you'd think that I'd know what a corner is too. Because that word is not too fancy. Last week, I tried to make some sense of a Korean resaturant's claim that it was "The Corner Place," when it was undoubtedly not located on a corner. This time, I visited a fairly new restaurant in Thai Town named Red Corner Asia that only scored two out of three on first impression. Because it's Asian, but it's not red, and it's not on a corner or in a corner. Perhaps it was called such because it has corners?
If it wasn't my vocabulary that improved after going to Princeton Review and college, then at least I can say that I developed a some impeccable research skills and a fine knack for getting to the bottom of things. It would be this same knack that would lead me to the restaurant's website where I would finally find some truth. Here's what it said:
Red represents love, good fortune, Thai red chilies and the red-hot flame of our BBQ grill.
Corner is a place to sit and relax in comfort with friends and family.
Asia comes from our unique blend of Asian foods that you will love at RCA.
Red Corner Asia (RCA) is a place for you and your loved ones to relax while enjoying the finest Thai and Asian dining experiences.
OK, see? Explanations! That's all I ever asked for!
But it wasn't like I didn't enjoy my dining experience at Red Corner Asia. I'm just a little obsessive freak, that's all. In fact, I've been there three times in the last few weeks if that tells you anything.
When Isaac and I go out to dinner together, we sometimes want atmosphere and good service, and hence, we know we have to pay a higher price for it. Other times, we want our bill to total less than 15 bucks and so going to a dumpy-dive is OK. What's cool about Red Corner Asia is that there's somewhat of an atmosphere and great service all for a little more than dumpy-dive prices. Located in Thailand Plaza, a mini mall that's home to such places as Ruen Pair, the Thai dessert place Bhan Kanom Thai, and the old home of singing Thai Elvis' Palms Thai, Red Corner Asia is the perfect location for a cheap date. The clean and spacious interior is painted in warm, contemporary tones. Dim lighting during dinner and the soft sounds of bossa nova or crooner vocals even make the place somewhat romantic, at least by Thai Town standards. Now you know I like the typical Asian greasy spoon as much as the next guy, but it's always nice to have options when you just don't feel like dealing with oil slicked floors, sticky menus or grease-filmed tables.
Your Not-So-Typical Thai Town joint
Speaking of sticky menus, two pages of mine were stuck together the first night we tried Red Corner Asia, and not two seconds later, a waitress zipped by to bring me a new menu and to apologize for the condition of the first one. The restaurant's owner, a really pleasant mannered Thai gentleman, also made sure to ask if we enjoyed our visit as we were getting ready to leave. He obviously didn't recognize me the second time I went to the restaurant to pick up a takeout order because he asked me if it was my first time at the restaurant, but no matter--the point is that he cared to ask, right? And as if they didn't already win the "Wow-No-One-is-Ever-This-Nice" award, they even brought me an ice water as I waited for my order. On our most recent visit, they gave us nothing less than decent service, and yet apologized to us for the slow service due to being short staffed. Now normally I'm skeptical of people that are too nice, but I've observed the folks at Red Corner Asia interacting with their customers and they're actually just...nice. Imagine that.
The food here isn't the best Thai food I've ever had, but it's pretty darn decent. I'd give their pad thai about a B+ which is an outstanding accomplishment in itself because you'd be surprised how many places fuck up such a simple dish. Red Corner Asia's had a good balance of sweet and sour flavors as well as a good ratio of noodles to other ingredients (meat, or in my case, fried tofu, as well as peanuts, beansprouts, etc.). I only wish the dish was just a smidgen more on the dry side. But that's just me, and all in all, they do a pretty good pad thai.
This earned a 3.3 GPA
As is with all Thai restaurants that offer a "choice of meat" with their a la carte items, the quality of the meat is always so-so, it's whatever's around the meat that you have to pass judgement on. Not surprisingly, the beef that we chose to go in our panang curry was a tad on the tough side, but the sauce itself was delicious. Along with the choice of meat, Red Corner Asia also gives you a choice on their spicy foods as to how how spicy you want it. We ordered this dish "medium spicy" and were quite pleased at the nice kick that the creamy coconut-milk based curry had.
"But why don't you want it spicy???" I whined to Isaac as he ordered a fried rice. I wanted the restaurant's Spicy Fried Rice with chili & basil, but as we had already ordered the panang curry, he wanted something a little more tame, and so I let him order a regular combination fried rice. The rice was fluffy and seasoned well, the pieces of chicken and pork were tender and the shrimp were pretty plump. A little generic I'll say, but it was good in a very basic kind of way.
Keep it simple, stupid
With the restaurant's papaya salad with blue crab, though, I got my wish as far as spiciness is concerned. It was the first time I'd ever tried green papaya, a food that I'd been very hesitant to try since yellow papaya has always smelled and tasted like ass. My brother was the one to reassure me otherwise. "No, trust me," he said, "green papaya is nothing like yellow papaya. It does not taste like ass." I also ordered this dish medium spicy and thank goodness I ate it at home because what I got was a conflagration in my mouth. But I kept eating it and eating it because it was just so damn good--refreshing, crunchy shreds of papaya, long beans, and a wedge of cabbage tossed with chiles, fish sauce, dried shrimp and whatever it is that they use for heat. The raw blue crab was fresh and whatever bits of crab meat we had the patience to pick out were good, but we could have done without it. Nothing against the crab; we're just lazy. By the time we were done, I think I had downed two huge glasses of water. Talk about a huge mother fucking fire.
Apparently, this is what a conflagration looks like
As with their pad thai, I wish their chicken pad kee mao and Chinese broccoli with crispy pork were a wee bit less on the saucy side. I also wish they offered their pad kee mao with ground chicken rather than regular slices of meat; I like the contrast between the little tasty bits of meat and the wide sheets of spicy noodle and chunks of bell pepper better. Despite the lack of ground chicken option and the slight oversaucing, their pad kee mao was nevertheless tasty. Same thing with the Chinese broccoli dish...the chunks of fried pork belly were perfect--fried to hardened perfection on the outside and revealing a nice smoky tenderness on the inside, a layer of crispy but luscious fatty skin to top it all off. Having that wonderful slight bitterness, the Chinese broccoli was the perfect combination of crunchy and leafy. And the sauce...well, it was perfect for eating with warm and fragrant jasmine rice, but the amount was in my opinion just over the "little too much" mark. I had to drain some of it out of the take out box when I got home. It made for one hell of a tasty leftover lunch the nest day though.
And you are quite saucy yourself
What I wasn't too thrilled with were the restaurant's angel wings (sorry, no picture!) of deep fried boneless chicken wings stuffed with glass noodle, ground pork and onion. The wings definitely looked better than they tasted, and they tasted, well, bland. A few swipes in the dish of bright red sweet & sour sauce helped but not by much.
Red Corner Asia's menu is pretty comprehensive and even includes some "Thai with a twist" dishes such as Kung Pao Pasta, Thai Style Sukiyaki, and a dish they call Volcano Chicken which consists of a whole roasted chicken served on a flaming platter--a chicken conflagration of sorts. I don't know if I'll be trying these anytime soon--I think I'll stick to the more traditional Thai dishes--but it's nice to know they're available.
I could go on and on with words and descriptions about this place, but all I have to say is that after three visits with tasty food and excellent service, Red Corner Asia is a pretty fucking good deal. Is there a word for that?
Red Corner Asia
5267 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027