It’s always nice when your anticipation pays off. In this case, we had been looking forward to going to Thai Gratiem for quite some time. The problem is — as you know if you read this blog regularly — we hate the East Side of Montgomery. So we try to go over there as rarely as possible. From the traffic to the soulless big box stores to the white flight to the contempt for the rest of the city, it represents everything bad about urban sprawl.
Still, there are some diamonds in the rough and we had heard that Thai Gratiem was one of them. The rumors were true.
“Gratiem” means garlic, but it seems that the three-year old restaurant just picked it because they thought it sounds cool. There’s not a major garlic theme to the place or anything. The place is in a generic looking strip mall (near a gun store and the usual array of genero-national branded shops) and it takes a while to get there from our house, but it’s worth it. This is a lot, considering that the restaurant is on the far end of the Hellscape, near Chantilly Parkway just before you end up most of the way to Union Springs.
The inside is well decorated. We had the entire place to ourselves on a recent lunch, but that may have been due as much to the freezing weather as anything. It’s small and just above strip mall-ish inside, but they have hung some nice decorations and some huge televisions that (thankfully) weren’t all on and blaring. The rant about the proliferation of big screen televisions into restaurants will be saved for another day.
The service was obviously attentive since we were the sole customers. The menu had a ton of options — all reasonably priced — and there was a separate VERY impressive list of teas and coffees. It is by far the best such list we have seen in this state. No liquor license though, which one of our guests made a little bit too big of a deal about. Booze isn’t a vital part of what we were looking for (at least at this lunch), but the folks said that the license was on the way and we’re sure they will be happy to be able to be able to sell liquor ASAP.
We did it big at our lunch. We ended up with four appetizers and they were all impressive. We didn’t try the chicken coconut soup, but it was well-reviewed by a member of our group. The spicy shrimp soup was fantastic and could make a satisfactory entree in sufficient amounts. Really tasty and perfect on a cold day. The soups were larger than expected given that they were described as “small bowls.” They were also served with white rice.
The “rice paper rolls” were more of what one might call spring rolls — the cold and crisp mint/basil, carrot, noodle, and tofu items that are dipped into a sweet plum sauce. They were awesome. And the things they called spring rolls were what we would usually thing of as “egg rolls” — tiny fried cylinders that went into a spicier but still sweet sauce. They were also fantastic. There were plenty of them and they had the desired effect of getting us excited for the entrees to come. The appetizers here were, frankly, everything that the appetizers at Lek’s and Ala Thai aspire to be – fresh, simple, and non-greasy.
The only slight disappointment was that the drunken noodles were listed on the menu as “spicy” and really weren’t. They were tasty though and the server brought an additional plate of super hot condiments that could be added to increase the heat level. So when those were added to the torn noodles and tofu, the heat reached the right level.
The highlight was my entree — the noodle stir fry. When I ordered it, unlike with the “spicy drunken noodle,” the server asked me to rate on a scale of one to ten how spicy I wanted it. I went with 7.5 and it was right in that range, which for me is QUITE spicy. In my experience, my threshold for heat is a bit higher than most, so if you’re on the fence, aim low. These people know how to bring the fire.
And by that, I mean the good kind — where it doesn’t overpower the natural flavor of the noodles and the ingredients. It was great at first bite, but when I squeezed the fresh lime over it, it pushed it to new levels. Truly a memorable batch of noodles and veggies — thick but not heavy, fresh but not insubstantial, hot but not mind-warping. I passed mine around and sealed the deal that we’d be back, if only to order more food like this. We agreed that this was a good notch or two ahead of other Thai food we’ve had here in town: Ala Thai and Lek’s. Which is not to say we don’t love Ala Thai. Lek’s, um, less so.
It’s a damn shame that you have to drive all the way out to the Hellscape’s Chantilly Parkway to get food this good. We have heard a rumor that Thai Gratiem might be opening a Midtown/Cloverdale branch in the near future, and we’re hoping that turns out to be true.