Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Thai fusion restaurant puts a new spin on strip-mall dining
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., Oct. 5, 2012
Lunch: Tue.-Fri., 11am-2pm; Sat.-Sun., 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner: Tue.-Sat., 5-10pm; Sun., 5-9pm
Spin Modern Thai Cuisine14005 Hwy. 183 N. #1000; 258-1365
Lunch: Tue.-Fri., 11am-2pm, Sat.-Sun., 11:30am-2:30pm;
dinner: Tue.-Sat., 5-10pm; Sun., 5-9pm
With Austin culinary pedigrees like Ek Timrerk (Uchi, East Side King) and Thai Changthong's (Uchiko), it's hard to imagine getting a bad plate of food at any establishment they helm. Open since April in a Cedar Park strip mall, Spin (as in "a new spin on Thai food") works to unsettle conceptions of both Thai food and where high-quality food lives.
My professional travels find me in Cedar Park pretty much daily, and I've been surprised by how many locally owned restaurants there are in what we center-city dwellers rather snobbishly think of as the "land of the bland." I was surprised that the proprietors of Spin would agree to situate their home between a portrait studio and a pediatric dentist and right around the corner from a SuperTarget, but I was soon disabused of my urban prejudices, while also acknowledging that not everything on the menu was to my taste.
I made my first visit to Spin for a late weekday lunch. Because I was on my own and in a hurry to get back into town, I opted for takeout, which was, in retrospect, a bit of a blunder. First, I wish I had eaten the sweet corn taro tempura ($5) fresh and hot because, while it was addictive in that uncontrollable-carbohydrate-binge sort of way, the starch of the taro had gone a little gummy on the 25-minute drive to my house. The black olive fried rice ($8.50) was unique in concept, and I liked the visual effect of the purplish-black mound of porky rice topped with a fried egg, but the flavor was a bit ho-hum, a blend of salty and umami without much depth or complexity of flavor beyond salt. While the fried egg on top was a nice touch, it continued to cook on the drive home and was cartoonishly rubbery by the time I attempted to eat it.
On a return visit for Sunday dinner, we got things started with a round of Thai basil mint sangrias ($8), a refreshing coda to a warm, early fall day. We decided to take a self-guided tour through the menu, starting with the Little Wing ($5) and Popcorn Escolar ($6) starters. The chicken wings were succulent, with a pleasant glaze of orange oil and red chili sauce. Perhaps we should have ordered two of these, as we each only got one piece, which led our son to very pointedly clean the bones of his parsimonious portion. The tempura-battered escolar yielded very nicely cooked and flavorful fish, but the tempura batter could have been crispier.
Moving on to the tasting plates section of the menu, we selected the larb sake ($9), an unusual – and extremely fresh and delicious – blend of halved red grapes, cherry tomatoes, sour green cucumbers, and die-sized cubes of salmon sashimi. It made for a very cool counterpoint to the Tiger Cry ($12), a traditional Thai salad featuring thinly sliced char-grilled sirloin with decidedly nontraditional cherry tomatoes. Fish sauce was the dominant – and deeply unpleasant – note for me, but my husband declared his willingness to go mano a mano with chopsticks for rights to the last bite. Our favorite dish of the night, hands down, was the moo sab ($9), a small heap of thinly sliced, perfectly tender char-grilled pork. The accompanying dipping sauce was completely unnecessary and, in fact, masked the perfect char-grilled flavor.
Another sauce that didn't quite make the grade was the housemade herb barbecue sauce slathered on the Rib Ping ($14). While the meat slid right off the bone, the ribs were ultimately forgettable and lacking in flavor. The Belly on Fire ($14), thick chunks of pork belly crusted with panko and a spicy curry blend, was moist but hardly fiery and proved another split decision: My husband hated it, I was ambivalent, and our lawyer friend gladly polished off what remained on the plate. The biggest head-scratcher of the night, and quite possibly my favorite for its sheer outrageousness, was the Veggie Puc ($14), a "clean out the fridge" vegetarian stir-fry featuring beets, cremini mushrooms, dried bean curd, snow peas, and snow pea leaves (which were surprisingly good). It was very tasty – I'm a sucker for creative treatments of vegetables – but didn't make much sense.
Restaurateurs have definitely realized over the past couple of years that there is a marketplace of diners desperate for something better than Chili's out in the 'burbs. On Highway 620 alone, Noble Pig has enjoyed enormous popularity, and a growing population of food trucks seem to be thriving. Locally owned Torchy's has staked its claim on the lunch crowds, with an adjacent, soon-to-open Verts hoping to follow suit, while Stuffed Cajun Meat Market and Vivo offer unique dinner options. With a few minor adjustments, Spin Modern Thai may make the case once and for all that Cedar Park is just as legitimate a space for innovation as any trendy enclave in the city proper.