By Saeed Alkurdi
Thai cuisine is a spicy oasis of harmonious and unique combinations of flavors. The dishes are of Chinese technique, typically, but have flavor profiles that are sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy. The juggling required to blend disparate elements into a balanced finish is Thai food at its core. I’ve sampled Thai food across Fresno and have even cooked it in my home, but the one place I’ve found that gets it right is Thai Country Kitchen in Clovis.
Walking up to the outside of the restaurant, it appeared very unassuming. No flashing lights or sprawling decor to lure in a potentially hungry patron. However, despite the lackluster display, it didn’t change the fact that this is certainly a place to acquire some great food.
The restaurant is tiny to be sure, about 13 tables with a small kitchen in the back. The inside is simple, clean with a few accent pieces to distinguish the establishment as Thai. Most of the tables accommodate a party of 4 with only a few tables that seat either more or less than 4 guests.
Availability on this Thursday was extremely limited as the restaurant was completely full, even though they just opened only 30 minutes before! Fortunately, however, a table was available within 5 minutes of my request.
I was given 2 menus, which were both quite extensive. This could be a bit troubling for those who are just being introduced to the world of Thai food. However, there are specials the house recommends as their signature dishes. After staring at the menus for a good five minutes and being completely beside myself, I then decide to check out what other people are ordering to help me make up my mind. The plates coming out of the kitchen all looked great, but one in particular caught my eye. It was the house specialty, Thai Basil. I order it immediately along with the papaya salad.
My plates both arrived looking very clean in presentation. Every item had its own place neatly organized on the plate. Neither of them was an all-in-one dish in and of themselves. They more resembled tiny buffet tables where the diner takes each element and combines them to create tailored bites filled with the flavors he/she wants to taste.
The papaya salad had green papaya that had been shredded into long strands and drizzled with lime dressing. The ingredients consisting of tomatoes, cabbage, peanuts, and of course the papaya, were all fresh and very delicious. Everything played well together but most surprisingly, it was the peanuts that I enjoyed the most about the salad. The way the peanuts paired with the spiciness of the chili and the citrus of the lime was exceedingly well. My only complaint would be that this dish came with too much dressing.
With the Thai Basil, I found the chicken to be perfectly cooked and flavorful with each bite. The level of spice was spot on, enough heat to saturate the mouth without overwhelming it. Just the way I like it. And the noodles were simply sublime, cooked to perfection and permeated with flavor and spice. The white rice on the dish provided a great way to cleanse the palette and cool off in between bites. The mushrooms added an earth tone and the onions provided some sweetness to the dish.
To sum up the entire experience I would say that these dishes weren’t exactly a refined experience. Instead, it was some down-and-dirty, damn good cooking. Fresh ingredients cooked extremely well and then put on a plate for the diner to combine as they see fit for a completely customized experience.
I have one last thing to say about Thai Country Kitchen and this style of cooking and it is, “Yes, please! Sign me up again.”