Grilled Shrimp Salad Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward

Grilled Shrimp Salad

Photo by Evans Vestal Ward

The real deal

Authenticity is never in question at Nine & Nine Thai Kitchen

By Dan O'Heron 12/02/2010

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When the owner of Nine & Nine Thai Kitchen suggests online that most Thai food in Southern California is too “Americanized,” is he being, well, un-American?
 
And why does he follow with a printed statement on the menu that “some dishes contain MSG?” Isn’t this a little like Marie Callender saying she adds alar to apple pies?
 
Chatting with owner Sid Chatapolchuntaya about it, I came to respect his frankness. With such freedom from conventional reticence to speak of such things, when he claimed that his cuisine was “authentic Thai,” I believed it was the gospel truth. 
Sid’s criticism of “Americanized” food did not come off as spiteful calumny. “I figured that real American tastes would appreciate authentic Thai food that is not so bland as I often taste here.” 
 
He emphasized that there is no need to tinker with Thailand’s classic use of a mouth-watering array of fruits and vegetables, plus myriad morsels of beef, pork, fish, chicken and noodles, each absorbing heady fresh herbs and a judicious blend of spices. 
For an off-the-street authentic Thai dish, Sid suggests you must test “choo choo,” jasmine rice mixed with scrambled egg, meat, onion, broccoli, tomato, then topped with a fried egg. 
 
“It’s what I always ate as a child on the train going from Bangkok to grandma’s house in the province,” Sid recalls.
Asked about MSG, Sid made it not sound like such a negative acronym. He pointed out that MSG has the ability to intensify the flavor of savory food and that it is unfortunate that some people have a very bad reaction to its use. “But some of my customers expect a certain flavor, and using MSG is the only way I can reproduce it. It’s only used in a few deep-fry dishes and I make separate batches of the dishes for people who don’t want MSG. Everything I do here is to personalize the tastes for my customers.”
 
I must say that Sid’s broccoli beef lunch special had my name on it. Tight clusters of tiny broccoli buds, though lightly cooked, were still very warm and snapped when I bit into them. 
 
Unlike the tough texture that makes the mandible so frangible in similar dishes at other Asian restaurants, the sliced beef here was tasty and just chewy enough to keep up my interest. 
 
Carrots and a mound of sticky rice sat in a puddle of light brown oyster sauce, which imparted richness without overpowering the natural flavors. And for only $6.95, it came with two egg rolls, each packed in flaky, paper thin — not cardboard — wonton wrappers, plus a sweet and tangy tangerine dip, all with a salad equipped with four veggies and a tomato.
 
Ideally, the best way to taste test “authentic” food — and the most economical — is to be in an office foursome sharing four dishes: an appetizer, a curry, something with rice and something with noodles. To begin, Sid suggests the Thai pork or chicken satay. The $6.95 plate includes five skewers, each threaded with juicy portions of meat. The extra skewer goes to the eldest at the table. In this office gathering, that would be me. It’s called senior advantage. 
 
Next, spoon out shares of a $6.95 bowl of beef or chicken green curry. As leader of the group, I’d dictate the temperature to the waiter. Depending on the weather outside, it could range from tingle to whiplash. This spicy curry sauce mixes in tune with rich coconut milk, perfumed basil leaves, tender-crisp bamboo shoots and lemon.
 
For a third course, I’d get a fair share of chili-pasted cashew nut chicken ($7.50). And for the fourth, a classic pad see ew. For $7.50, this combines either pork, beef, chicken or shrimp ($2 extra) with translucent rice noodles. Pan-fried, these noodles explode into a tangle of airy, crunchy strands, all scrambled with egg, soy and a Chinese broccoli that is more pungent and bitter than the type of broccoli popular in America. 
 
Most impressively, for lunch or dinner, four people can enjoy a lavish blending of contrasting flavors and concurrent waves of mellow, bitter, sweet, salty, spicy, tart and hot — all in one sitting — for just splitting up a $30 tab, plus tip. 
 
The restaurant offers free delivery (minimum order, $15) within a three-mile radius. The restaurant is open  continuously from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and parking is free and no problem if you tool into Target’s lot across the street. Neat as a pin, with only 34 seats, and a tree obscuring its name on the front awning, Nine & Nine is a little hard to spot, so just be alert.
 
So what’s with the name? In Thailand, nine is considered a lucky number, which means you hit the daily double at Nine & Nine Thai Kitchen in Pasadena.

Nine&Nine Thai Kitchen
754 E. Colorado Blvd.,Pasadena, 
(626) 844-1899 
nineandninethai.com


 

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