Wow, I have to hand it to Dang’s Thai Kitchen, they give great receipts. Sitting down to write this review, as is typical of the dinners at more ethnic places, I’m not totally certain what it was everybody ordered. I had a bite of almost everything, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily know what it was I was sampling. As it happens though, at this dinner, as I did the last few before it, I grabbed the receipt to help me. And Dang’s, being a brand new place, have a first class computerized receipt that tracks everything under the sun. Not only is commonplace info on there like the day we dined, and the server’s name (Nai,) but every single item is annotated, with name and number, amount of servings, and type of meat added. So all I have to do is pull out the handy take out menu I just happen to have, and match the numbers to the corresponding numbers on my menu. I’m on easy street here. At the bottom was even a handy tip guide telling the percentages for 15%, 18%, and 20% tip (Dang’s did not add on the mandatory tip, although the menu states a 17% tip is required for groups of 6 or more and we were 7).

I suppose I should start paying more attention to receipts, it looks to me like they are turning into a wealth of dining information. I admit I might expect a receipt like this out of some place in the Pearl, but modest little Dang’s? Many Thai restaurants still have people scrawling indecipherable hieroglyphics on a little white pad, so I find the sophistication and technology of Dang’s receipt mind boggling. I wonder how long it takes a non native English speaker to enter something like this. Or do they have a special person who just does this for the servers? “The receipt enterer.”Sounds like a better job than “The Receipt Payer”.

Other than the high falutin’ receipt, Dang’s Thai Kitchen is a pretty modest place, but tastefully modest. Dang’s will probably never be more than modest, how can it not be in this particular building? This is no Siam Society ex-power station trendy retrofit Thai place. This is a retrofit of some cheezy sleazy box-like 60s-70s pseudo-diner sort of building right next to a carwash. My guess was a Denny’s, but horror or horrors, someone mentioned they thought it used to be a Sambos. Now that’s a scary scenario. Anything connected to Sambos is always frightening, although I must admit that I have etched in my memory banks many childhood dinners of a skinny grilled NY steak dinner at Sambos with accompanying styrofoam toast (is it any wonder I still can’t break away from the steak? It’s ingrained from my childhood)

Sambo memories aside, Dang still did a nice job making it a pleasant, non-kitchy space (has anyone every been to Thai Thai? Kitch-o-rama.) I couldn’t help but being floored by a big Chaba Thai whammy when I entered, however, as the paint job is the same, same rich pumpkin and shades of celery green with black trim. A coincidence, I think not. Chaba Thai might be a tiny bit more attractive inside, because of the building layout perhaps, working with an older (and on the outside semi-dilapidated) space, opposed to a place that still has a breakfast place kind of layout. But Dang’s is still really nice and modern for a Thai place (the two exceptions being Siam Society and the Typhoons,) the colors are great, the furnishings nice, everything really clean and shiny looking, and the art subtle for what you find in many SE Asian places around here. I also couldn’t help but feel like I was back at Chaba when Dang’s wife ran up to me yelling “Jackie, Jackie, your table is ready.” She was the first Chaba Thai person I ever met, over five years ago, and allegedly the only person Dang took away from Chaba (and who can blame him, his wife is a beautiful youngish Thai woman probably 20 years younger than him.) It’s just too bad I called her Mai, and even asked her “are you certain your name isn’t Mai?” She kept insisting her name was Jen, but somehow I doubt it, are there really Jennifers running around Thailand? (Or Dangs for that matter?) Whatever her name, she’s a lovely woman, pretty enough to be in the sequel to “Memoirs of a Geisha”, “Memoirs of a Non-Geisha Who Serves Salad Rolls”. After all, none of those actresses were Japanese either.

Oh, but I digress. How unusual.

One really good thing that happened this dinner, our group of familiars had a new diner in our midst. Now that many of you younger whipper snappers seem out having your own summertime fun, I’ve decided to open things up with some new recruits (people who don’t know better than to go out to eat with me.) The great thing about RR’s newest member, Sara Eliot, is she happens to be somewhat of an expert on SE Asian cuisine, having travel quite extensively in places like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Now what kind of good timing was that? And not only that, but Sara willingly submitted a review to me. Thank you so much Sara, with all that goes on at the dinners, all that intrigue and money changing and under the table goings on (I managed to drop my fork yet again,) I’m so glad someone was there to actually document the food.

Here’s what Sara had to say about her first Restaurant Roulette dinner, and the quality of the Thai food at Dang’s …..

As far as the food, the green curry was really good, and I am eating my left overs now. I like fishy, but catfish is fishier than most fish. Sometimes it can be cooked to reduce the fishyness, but I don’t cook catfish, so (in a long roundabout way) I am just saying that it is for people who already like catfish, maybe not first timers. For example, I don’t much like chicken in Asian food, so I would never order an entree at a Thai restaurant with chicken, no matter how good the rest of the stuff was. The massuman and pumpkin curries were really good in that they were mild, thick, and not overly sweet, as they tend to be in other restaurants. Also, in Asia, they used big chunks of vegetables, so I liked that at Dang’s. Also, I liked that he used the Asian eggplant in the curry, and wished he skipped the regular eggplant altogether. The appetizers were ok, I found the Po Pia Sod’s wrapping to be tough. The tempura was good, and the stuffed calamari was good. That pad thai was way disappointing, too sweet and oily for my taste, and even though i don’t like hot, i do think a little more spice was needed to get it off the ground.

As far as desserts, I have just never found desserts I really liked in Asia, other than fruits themselves, and fruit smoothies. Since they were all tropical fruits, I’m sure it would not be the same here. So, I usually skip dessert on a Thai menu and stick with Thai iced tea or Thai iced coffee to satiate my sweet tooth. The benefit of those is that with spicy food, they reduce the heat. I am not a beer fan for the most part, but always like Singha beer, the Thai beer, as it is mild and also light, with a slight sweet taste that again balances against the heat. So, last night I chose the beer. Overall, it was a pleasant place that got away from the formulaic menu and decor of the usual mushrooming gringo-Thai joints all over town. I loved the elephant watercolor and the better art on the wall (as opposed to the travel agency posters). The table and chairs were also pleasing to the eye and comfy.

Spoken like an expert. Thank you Sara, and thank you to the group for being welcoming as always. Special kudos to Regis, who bad ear and all, swapped Texas and Asia stories with Sara (Sara is yet another Texas connection, Dallas,) and Pat, who I’m not sure has a bad ear, but swapped stories with Sara on how unpleasant it is to really badly break your leg in Oregon (or something like that.) And thank you Pat for sharing you pictures of your soon to be home black and white bundle of joy, Corky, it was almost like having M & L there with photos of their black and white bundles of joy.

But on to more food talk. I suppose that’s supposed to be included in this dining thingy somewhere.

Dang’s not having a hard liquor license, we were stuck with the lighter beverages. Three of us shared a bottle of BV Pinot Gris, which I actually found one of the better Pinot Gris I’ve had recently, very dry and cheesy (or maybe that was David, who was sitting to my left.) Two different Reislings were served by the bottle, Pat giving hers the thumbs down, but Julia liking her vintage enough to suffer through two glasses. Like Sara, Regis had the Singha Beer, but it just was not suited to his manly dark beer tastes (hmm, the only beer I can choke a teaspoon down of is a very dark beer, ) so he followed that up with a Fat Tire Ale.

The menu at Dang’s is pretty huge, so everyone spent much time deciding what to order, for starters and main dishes. Most everyone ordered a starter, then we just kind of threw them in the middle of the table and shared. Julia’s choice was a vegetable tempura, which I thought a very odd item for a Thai place, but it was certainly different from any Japanese Tempura I’ve ever seen, instead of your usual lacy coating, this had more of a traditional batter. It was light, not too greasy, and plentiful. David and Bev had the Po Pia Sod, which was fresh roll filled with your usual tofu, shrimp, bean sprouts, etc, but in this case also had Chinese sausage and egg, a light sauce, and fresh crab dumped on top. I thought it was pretty good. Regis and Pat got Chicken Satay and Fresh Salad Rolls with shrimp, which they were kind enough to divide, eventhough they are almost impossible to eat intact. I had the Stuffed Calamari which was stuffed with ground pork, shrimp, glass noodles and your usual salad roll items, dipped in tempura batter, then deep fried. This would be the type of thing I would think would be hard to prepare correctly, as you want the batter crispy, the squid not chewy, and the inside fixings cooked to the right level, but I thought Dang’s did a masterful job, the calamari was as tender as could be, and I found it the best of the starters (I’m so special.)

To be honest, although most people liked what they ate at Dang’s, I felt a bit guilty, as I had mislead everyone about how spicy they should order their entrees. Chaba Thai tends to be one fire breathing type of place (I’ve sweated through many a “mild” version Pad Kee Mao there, and once had a hot red curry I couldn’t eat more than three spoon fulls of,) and I assumed Dang’s would be like that too. It wasn’t, all the mild entrees were that, mild. My medium Pad Kee Mao was only medium. So I’m sorry if anyone’s food wasn’t up to the spicy level they prefer (especially you, DD, King of Fire.)

Quite a few people went for curries on this evening. Regis, in an adventurous mood,  had the Beef and Pumpkin in Mussaman Curry, something he told me he had really enjoyed elsewhere (Typhoon perhaps?) He seemed to enjoy it, and I liked the sample I had. Pat had the regular Mussaman Curry, one of Chaba’s signature dishes, and she told me she really enjoyed the rich mild flavor. Sara, as mentioned above, had the Green Curry with catfish. After a green curry eating frenzy in the late 90s I’ve sort of gotten away from green curry and switched my favor to red curry with coconut milk, but it brought back good memories of yummy green curries, this one having an extra sort of salty bite from the catfish. David, that quirky guy, after so many debates about which unusual Thai entree to try, decided on the so-so Pad Thai, and found it lacking in spiciness. Julia had the healthy sounding Pad Vegetables with Cashews, the woman was on the vegetable eating extravaganza this night. Bev had the Pad Thai Woo Sen with shrimp, and I really didn’t get a sense of what she thought, I just know she was glad the owner was not standing next to her during the entire meal to make chit chat (an unpleasant encounter at another Thai place.) I was a wuss and had my usual Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles) with pork. I love these dishes with wide noodles, and found it particularly good on this night, although I couldn’t help but notice this medium version was much milder than the extra spicy mild version I always get at Chaba.

Everyone basically shared and sampled almost everything. The same was true of the desserts. I thought the fried bananas that Bev had were the best of the desserts. The coconut ice cream was served in a very generous portion, with three decent sized scoops and chocolate drizzled on top, but as David remarked several times, it was strangely salty, and although it seemed full of flakes of coconut, wasn’t overly coconutty tasting. David preferred the avocado ice cream, which Dang’s was taking on a test run, and had piled a small square of on top of our mounds of coconut ice cream. I thought it was okay, I’m not really an avocado fan, but at least it wasn’t salty. The waitress was very interested in our opinion of it, almost pestering for a decision on its worthiness.  I don’t think Pat and Regis cared for their deep fried ice cream, which was the same coconut ice cream dipped in coconut and deep fried. They said that the outside was coconutty, but the inside ice cream wasn’t. I think the main reason many of us ordered the desserts was because they were only $4, and where can you find $4 dessert in this day and age?

I think almost everyone enjoyed Dang’s, and found the extensive menu fascinating, if a bit overwhelming. I liked the waitress, an attractive young Thai woman who had obviously spent most of her life in this country (almost perfect English,) but the service at Dang’s isn’t what I would call first rate, just as it never was at Chaba (Chaba is worse though, usually somewhat overwhelmed and perhaps understaffed.) Sara’s order was taken wrong, and since her meal had to be prepared from the beginning again, she had to wait quite a long time for her entree (it’s good this dinner was about sharing almost everything, it made her wait less agonizing.) My water glass became empty about half way through my meal, a phenomenon I have seen too many times at Thai restaurants with their often palate wrenching cuisine. The dirty dishes were not taken away very promptly, and when desserts were ordered, the table was still full of dirty entree plates and leftovers being containered. This is a cardinal sin when you are judging service. I don’t think the service lapses were necessarily the fault of the waitress (except for the entree screw up,) I just think Dang’s should operate like most quality restaurants do, you don’t leave every task up to your primary server, especially jobs like cleaning the table of plates and filling water glasses, these can be done by anyone in the restaurant who is not busy at that time.

Other than that, Dang’s was fine. The food was very good, the atmosphere pleasant, the drive pleasant on a sunny Friday evening, and the prices moderate. It seems like Dang’s is doing well for a new place, the restaurant was mostly full until towards the end of our meal. As usual we closed the place down, and as usual, our conversation got a bit boisterous, and the staff at Dang’s probably wasn’t too sad to see us go. What can I say, no matter who comes to the dinners, we seem to be a pretty rowdy bunch. I guess good food and entertaining conversation makes people lose control.