Tastes of Thailand in Central Texas
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Oct. 9, 2009
Chon Som2013 Wells Branch #109, 989-5559
Tuesday-Friday, 11am-2pm, 5-10pm; Saturday, noon-10pm; Sunday, noon-9pm; Monday, closed www.chonsom.com
The dining room at Chon Som is stark and utilitarian, with a concrete floor and inexpensive metal chairs, giving the room all the ambience of a church basement. But while pleasant decor is a plus, the food is what matters, and since Chon Som (which takes its name from the Thai words for fork and spoon) has won awards for its cuisine, the inauspicious atmosphere is easily overlooked.
The service was good, attentive, and intelligent, and our beverages, iced tea and Thai iced tea, were above average. The Dynamite Shrimp ($5) was recommended as the most popular appetizer; sadly, the shrimp are fishy, and their breading is lifeless and heavy. The calamari ($6), however, is fresh and tender, with a light, crisp breading and a tasty Thai dipping sauce. The breading on the two items is so dissimilar, in fact, that it made me wonder if the Dynamite Shrimp had possibly been fried earlier and reheated.
Tom kha soup ($4) was the next order, and it was the hit of the evening. The broth is powerful, strongly flavored with galangal and lemongrass, and in it floats a generous amount of white-meat chicken and straw mushrooms. All of the traditional flavors of this popular soup are present and well-balanced.
Unfortunately, the beef panang curry ($9) that followed is soupy and flavorless. Beef panang is one of the most intense Thai dishes, and rendering a flavorless rendition should be impossible; Chon Som's version resembles an ordinary order of beef panang to which a gallon of water had been inexplicably added. Coconut milk and Thai lime leaf, two essential ingredients, are entirely missing. The pad thai ($8) was a disappointment as well; the rice stick noodles that form the backbone of the dish were still in a semidry, hard state, rendering the dish inedible.
Our server apologized and removed the pad thai from the bill. Still hungry, we ordered dessert, the Thai doughnuts. These are miniature versions of the French beignet, served with sweetened condensed milk, and are perfectly nice. Considering that we were there on a Saturday night, when a restaurant usually puts forth its "A" game, Chon Som's overall poor execution does not bode well for its success.