taste of thai
Did someone say “curry crawl”?
Once you’ve experienced the magical smell and tasted the deeply complex flavors of a proper Thai curry, when you crave it, nothing else will satisfy. Fortunately, Thai restaurants have become so prevalent in our area that it’s hard not to find a taste of Thai when you want it.
Then let’s get started ...
I began my “curry crawl” by listing all of the Thai restaurants in the immediate vicinity and came up with 14 in Medina, Stark, Summit and Portage counties. Discounting restaurants that had multiple locations and narrowing the field down to a manageable number, I ended up with five restaurants to visit over the course of a week. My rules were simple: Order only what’s available on the menu, pay for my own meals and actually eat the curry I ordered.
My crawl began somewhat inauspiciously at the Medina location of House of Hunan (18 Public Square, Medina, www.houseofhunan.net). Originally serving Americanized Chinese cuisine, this local chain added Japanese and Thai cuisine, too.
After being seated at a table by the lovely water fountain, I began to study the menu in earnest. According to the menu, House of Hunan brought in a “locally renowned Thai chef” with a “perfect ‘soft’ hand for the spice.” Translation? These dishes aren’t going to blow the roof off your mouth.
For dinner, I decided on the Red Curry with Chicken ($14). Visually, the dish felt Chinese — an melange of vegetables and chicken thrown together and stir-fried in a wok. What identified it as Thai was the sauce. Sadly, this dish greatly disappointed. My biggest complaint is that it lacked any sort of depth of flavor or complexity; it was missing a Thai soul. Flavors peaked early and disappeared quickly on my tongue as I took bite after bite. I quickly came to the conclusion that while a locally renowned Thai chef may have designed the recipes, whoever cooked it either didn’t like Thai food, has never tasted Thai food or simply needed to learn to follow a recipe.
Traveling east, I found myself sitting at a quaint little spot smack dab in the middle of Canal Fulton. V-Li’s Thai Cuisine (129 Canal St. North, Canal Fulton, www.vilisthaicuisine.com) differentiates itself from the competition because it’s one of the few restaurants to only serve Thai cuisine. V-Li’s is also noteworthy because the chef refuses to serve dishes at the more authentic “Thai Spicy” level in an effort to ensure the diner is able to taste the nuance in the curries.
For my visit, I ordered the Red Curry with Shrimp ($13) and instead of the “1 chile pepper” spice level, I asked for a more incendiary “5 chile peppers.” Unlike my last stop, my mouth was sufficiently ablaze after just one bite. The shrimp, perfectly cooked, were tender and succulent. The vegetables — zucchini, bell pepper and bamboo shoots — had a nice balance in texture that yielded to the tooth yet retained a small amount of crunch to them. The red curry, while spiced a bit much for the average diner’s taste, was a pleasant blend of spicy and mildly sweet.
Almost due east from V-Li’s was my next destination, Sukho Thai (4430 Belden Village St. NW, Canton, www.sukhothaicuisine.com). Located between Buffalo Wild Wings and Buffet Dynasty, Sukho offers diners a mix of Thai cuisine and a fresh sushi bar.
While most restaurants serving Thai curries offer a standard curry sauce protein complement of chicken, beef, pork and shrimp, Sukho was unique in that it also offered diners a choice of cuttlefish, crab and lobster. Having already had my fill of red curry from my previous two visits, I ordered the Emerald Green Curry with Chicken ($11).
What arrived at my table were tender slices of chicken; zucchini, squash and cabbage; strips of red bell pepper; and a garnish of fresh basil. The sauce — fairly mild even when I asked for it to be “medium” spicy — nevertheless was somewhat complex and had a bit of zip. And the coconut milk helped to temper the spice and enrich the sauce. While certainly a better curry than what I had experienced during my first stop, this particular curry was pretty good — but could’ve been better.
Traveling to the Springfield Lake area of Akron on Rt. 224, my fourth stop was Siamone’s Thai Pub (2215 East Waterloo Rd., #114, Akron, www.siamones.com). I first discovered Siamone’s several years ago by accident — lured in by the colorful lights of other restaurants and bars in the same complex. It wasn’t until I drove around the entire lot that I noticed the signs for this unassuming little eatery.
Interestingly, while I’ve enjoyed many of the other items off Siamone’s menu, I’d never eaten one of the curries. Tonight I decided to try the Khing Curry with Tilapia ($13). Siamone’s is one of the few Asian restaurants where I find I don’t have to fight with the kitchen to get my dish spiced to the appropriate level. If you ask for it spicy, it comes out spicy. Tonight’s dish was marked “medium,” and I decided to keep it as it came.
I was quickly rewarded with a dish that was stunningly fresh and tasty and had an amazing amount of complexity and depth of flavor. The fish was cooked beautifully — opaque, tender and incredibly moist. The green beans and broccoli still had a slight bit of snap to them, and the chopped red pepper offered a wonderful sweetness and color contrast. The star of this plate, however, was the curry sauce. I could’ve eaten it with plain rice and been quite happy. Siamone’s is truly a hidden Akron gem worth discovering.
To finish up my crawl, I found myself at a recent addition to the Kent scene, Wild Papaya Thai Cuisine (1665 East Main St., Kent, www.wildpapayaohio.com). Located in the same spot as the now-defunct Shorty’s, Wild Papaya had re-done the interior to appeal to a more Asian asthetic (but didn’t feel over the top) and was the second restaurant I visited that served only Thai cuisine.
While I was looking at the portion of the menu dealing with curries, my server suggested that if I like Thai curry, I should consider the Siam Duck ($17), listed under the house specialties. Since the dish was on the pricier end of the menu, I thought at first my server might simply be trying to steer me toward a more expensive final check. Fortunately for my taste buds, I decided to try it.
Hands down, this was one of the most delicious Thai curries I’ve ever tasted. The fact that the dish came with tender slices of duck — skin crisped perfectly — was almost moot. The sauce had a level of complexity that surpassed even the Khing Curry I’d eaten at Siamone’s. I could’ve easily sat there and eaten the sauce with the brown rice and left a happy diner.
My conclusion? There are plenty of fantastic examples of this cuisine in our area. And considering that there were nine restaurants I wasn’t able to cover on my crawl, clearly plenty of opportunities exist for further exploration. If you’ve never had a Thai curry, do yourself a favor and give one a try.
/ Writer Tom Noe is a computer programmer by day and an avid food enthusiast, writer and photographer just about every other waking moment. He currently writes a local food blog, Exploring Food My Way, where he critically reviews NEO restaurants, occasionally posts a recipe or two, and when he’s feeling particularly loquacious, writes essays and poems on anything food-related.