Is the fresh curry paste at In-On Thai worth all the effort? | Bleader

Is the fresh curry paste at In-On Thai worth all the effort?

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Yam mu yang ma-khuea pro, In-On Thai
  • Mike Sula
  • Yam mu yang ma-khuea pro, In-On Thai

Earlier this spring when Lakeview's In-On Thai opened it occasioned few blips in the media, not nearly what I would expect given what the Hungry Hound reported a few months later: the chef, Korakot Vongsatit, was making curry pastes from scratch each morning. That's rather extraordinary for your average mom-and-pop Thai restaurant given how laborious it is to pound fibrous aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, and garlic with chiles and whole spices. Even the places we love best tend to use commercial curry pastes, a time- and money-saving practice that's actually not condemned by Thai food experts like Friend of the Food Chain Leela Punyaratabandhu and Chef McDang.

Nevertheless, In-on Thai quietly assumed an unheralded position among the dozens and dozens of unremarkable Thai restaurants around town. Maybe its menu is to blame. Nearly every item is given a generic English name, and even common dishes are left untranslated, which can lead more confusion than it was meant to avoid. I assumed that the fifth dish on the menu "seafood curry" would be the fairly common hor mok, but Leela who was kind enough to look at the menu and read the Thai name says it's actually a completely different dish, kind of a dry fish curry. It's the antithesis of an untranslated secret menu, obscure for its very over-reliance on the English language.

For this reason the menu doesn't appear particularly exciting, and, in fact, on it you'll find many of the common American Thai standards from tom yam to pad thai to som tam to pad see-ew. There are some uncommon dishes here and there, however, like the aforementioned seafood curry, a Thai-style tuna salad, a spicy ground pork and fish ball noodle soup, a crispy chicken curry with pickled vegetables. My eye was caught by the third dish on the menu "grill pork with eggplant salad" a cold arrangement of lightly charred but cold pork and very thinly sliced green eggplant. Sweet and fiery, it seems like a simple dish, but Leela, (who provided the Thai name yam mu yang ma-khuea pro), points out that it is relatively uncommon due to the unpredictable quality of Thai eggplants in the U.S., which for this dish should be very young and fresh, with seeds that haven't fully developed.

Green curry with beef, In-On Thai

That point brings me to the curry. I ordered a basic green curry with beef, and it was lovely, with two kinds of eggplant and a finishing flourish of coconut milk on top. The curry itself was thin and suspended with tiny, almost granular bits of vegetal matter—an unusual but pleasant texture for sure—but it didn't strike me as particularly unique in terms of flavor or aroma. That reminded me of McDang's lesson that a curry paste made from scratch in the U.S. is never going to approach one made in Thailand simply because of the inferiority of available ingredients. Despite that, you have to admire the effort and commitment at In-On Thai, which deserves a bit more attention than it's gotten so far.

in-On Thai, Lakeview

In-On Thai, 3821 N. Broadway, 773-857-2475, inonthai.com

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