Madam Mam's West Gate
The Guadalupe location has been a resounding success from the get-go, and now they have added a South Austin location
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Nov. 10, 2006
Madam Mam's West Gate
4514 West Gate Blvd., 899-8525
Ever since Madam Mam's Noodles and More opened on the Drag, critics and customers alike have raved about the quality and authenticity of the food, some even saying that the Thai cuisine at Mam's is as good or better than what can be had in Thailand. "Mam," after all, not only grew up learning to cook both royal and family-style Thai food but was also a restaurateur in Bangkok, as well as a food critic for Thai newspapers. Dedication to fresh, authentic Thai ingredients (real Kaffir lime leaves, not lime juice; galanga, not ginger) and traditional preparation (no short cuts) have always set Madam Mam's apart. The Guadalupe location has been a resounding success from the get-go, and now they have added a South Austin location. The new store is on West Gate, just across from Central Market, and there's plenty of parking.
The new dining room is colorful and casual, with a joyous display of multicolored parasols hanging from the ceiling. (I vote it the best "ceiling treatment" I have ever seen in a restaurant, where ugly ductwork always poses a decorating challenge.) There is considerably more seating, too, which is good because both times I went, the place was absolutely slammed.
The menu is the same, and it looked to me that much of the seasoned staff (including Mam) have come to South Austin as well, to ensure the place gets off to a good start.
We began with the Fresh Shrimp Spring Roll ($3.95) and the Tofu Satay (a daily special at $5.95). The spring rolls, enchanting packages of shrimp, vermicelli, sacred basil, mushrooms, and crisp mint enfolded in translucent wrappers, hit all the right notes with their combination of savory, bright, and fresh flavors. The spicy peanut dipping sauce served alongside is rich and subtle and nicely topped with a smidgen of fried onions. The Satay is four generous skewers of crisp, hot tofu, served with a coconut-curry peanut sauce, toast points, and a dish of sweet pickled cucumber. The crisp, sweet vinegar perfectly complements the fried tofu and the dark, opulent sauce, amplifying all the flavors. Heavenly.
Next, we sampled the chicken Tom Kha Soup ($8.50), a classic Thai soup that combines coconut milk, hot peppers, chicken, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, galanga, lime juice, magrood, and cilantro. Tom Kha is possibly the best soup on planet Earth, and Mam's version achieves an almost otherworldly perfection, every flavor intense and clean. (Note: This soup is not listed under "soups"; it is one of several soups oddly listed under "Special Noodle & Rice.")
Some poor souls, traumatized by bitter, squishy eggplant, avoid ordering it and miss out on dishes like the Pad Ma Kur Yaow ($6.95). Consisting of Japanese eggplant stir-fried with fresh jalapeños, Thai basil, and soy, it is delectable and has just the right amount of heat. The delicate flavor of the perfectly cooked eggplant holds its own against the bright basil and earthy soy, making the dish a knockout, as was the Beef Panang Curry ($6.50). The spicy Panang is a universal favorite, its red curry coconut sauce enlivened with Thai lime-leaf and sacred basil.
Our server recommended the Beef Guay Teaw Kua Gai ($6.50), a mixture of flat rice noodles stir-fried with thinly sliced beef, egg, bean sprouts, pickled radish, and soy, served with fresh lettuce. The contrast between the soft, rich noodles, the crisp lettuce, and the piquant sweet-vinegar "accent" sauce creates an ideal balance of textures and flavors. As a stir-fried Thai noodle dish, it is far better than the Shrimp Pad Thai ($8.25). Pad Thai has been called the official dish of Thailand, and many people rate Thai places by their version of this dish. Madam Mam's does not deserve to be judged by their Pad Thai alone: The noodles are soggy, the flavors blunt and pedestrian, and the presentation monochromatic. I would have to say it is merely OK; any of the other stir-fried noodle dishes is a better choice.
Sticky Rice With Mango ($4.50), a simple (but effective!) dessert, pairs a mound of warm, sticky rice, drizzled with coconut milk, with a sliced ripe mango. Along with superstrong, supersweet Thai iced coffee ($1.95), it brought our meal to a joyous close. Joyous is the word for Madam Mam's West Gate; I think she might have to hire more staff and just accept that the line out the door is going to be permanent.