I jest but no joke. And I’d pay more than 2 cents. This Thai restaurant is serious. The real deal. Not Bangkok via McDonalds. One of the all-star top tier Queens five as I think of them.
Part of the specialness of Ayada is that besides the outrageously fabulous food, it has a lovely cozy charm, takes cc and you can make a reservation. Small gestures can sometimes be the coup de grace.
There’s an artfulness to the decor as well as the food on your plate. Candles float in clear vases of water, vintage photographs are carefully arranged on the bright spring green wall, a backlit blue bar doubles as the service station and white geometric shaped dinnerware overflows with the terroir of Thailand.
The food is real. Traditional, and though considered Issan (northern Thai) seems to fall in with a more southern regard, with all of the various and insanely good curries. The staff is friendly and very generous with their advice on spice. In your local Thai delivery spot, you have to beg for “Thai spicy” just to get a slight fur on the tongue. At Ayada, I don’t think “Thai spicy” will ever pass my lips. We had a combination of medium spicy and spicy – the tiny step but large leap before the Thai extreme. I’m no novice but I think I could live happily here with medium. I swear I wouldn’t feel like they were pandering to a westerner. My usual complaint. It dazzles. The gleam comes from the layers of divine cooking, not just how many chilies you can adorn a bowl with. The food is nuanced, herbed and considered. Plus it tingles.
Started with fried tofu as requested by one of my companions but the sauce was lively enough and the tofu crisp-tender that I was happy to score two pieces. However it’s the plate that arrived with it that blew me away. Chive “dumplings”. Not dumplings at all but fried cakes of chive and maybe glutinous rice? And paradise.
The richness of the chive cake is my new siren’s call. Moist tinged with earthy crunch, so flavorful yet without an indication of the heat level to come next in the signature raw shrimp. Nine shrimps topped with garlic, fish sauce, a chili-lime combo, with every component bright and raw so the one bite pop into your mouth is sublime, arresting, and unlike anything else on the table. It also made another dining companion gasp. That’s where we veered into step 3 level spiciness so buyer beware.
I could finish the dish once I ordered the quasi antidote! A sip and roll around the tongue before pressing on gives you a new lease on spice. It’s the condensed milk in the iced coffee that will soothe the burn.
And we needed the Thai iced coffee to accompany the oh so very piquant papaya salad.
This is one stellar dish. A shrine of shredded green papaya tossed with a mouth tingling array of lime juice, dried shrimp, raw garlic, peanuts, fish sauce and a resounding o-m-g level of bird’s eye chilies aka Thai chilies aka heat. High heat, tongue whipping, duct tearing, palate shimmering heat. Good heat. Ha. Fantastic.
Kang som sour curry stayed on course with the spice scale. Sour tamarind paste beautifully complimented by sweet, hot, salty tartness. Perfectly cooked shrimp, assorted vegetables and we were lucky to have the ribbons of cha-om (from the acacia plant, sometimes it’s broccoli) in the frizzled pieces of omelette soaking up the curry broth.
Seafood Mango Salad proved an oasis of cool charm in the desert heat. Squid, shrimp, shredded mango, pure delight. And still tangy.
Several more dishes for reverie – green curry with chicken, esan sour sausage on a plate of ginger, peanuts, and cucumbers all to be wrapped in the big lettuce leaves and then fried fish with yup – more mango. It was delectable snapper, no tilapia thank goodness and as long as you pick around the bones, you are treated to sweet and crispy bites that keep you hunting for more.
A favorite for me were the dan dan noodles. Not greasy, ultra peppery and yes there was a burn, but oh yes there was layered crazy flavor. And the desire for more.
One way to dine here is to gather your notes from reviews or blogs, trust the wait staff or ask for Kitty, the chef owner aka Ms Thammasat and if possible, she’s happy to do her own version of omakase for you. There are so many more dishes to sample and some to revisit, perhaps a little chef guidance would be an extra push for getting you to Elmhurst.
I love the attention to detail. It’s in the service, atmosphere and food. You feel taken care of and yet ever adventurous at the same time. I even like the way they fold the doggie bag.
It’s a wonderful meal no matter your preference. My table didn’t love the sausage dish we chose but there’s much more pork to be indulged and I’ve dined with others who praised the pink sausage slices. Go with an open mind – you’ll be greeted with open hearts, full bowls and when your open mouth has been filled with Thai treasure, it will thank you.
77-08 Woodside Avenue