By Keith Plocek
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Matt Coker
By Edwin Goei
By Dave Mau
By Gustavo Arellano
Of all the categories of ethnic restaurants, Thai eateries tend to be the most beautifully decorated: Every one seems to host paintings of pagodas, statues of various incarnations of Buddha, pictures of beautiful Thai women, and at least one photo of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a touch that seems as mandatory to Thai restaurants as a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe is to Mexican ones.
401 E. 17th St., Ste C
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Region: Costa Mesa
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That's why I was a bit perturbed on my initial visit to MaDee Thai Kitchen, in that part of Costa Mesa that's about to turn into Newport Beach. There's a replica of the Great Buddha of Thailand . . . and that's it. The white-and-crimson walls are bereft of any paintings; the menu is tacked onto a marquee and devoid of any dish descriptions. There are only a couple of tables and chairs, and all food comes served on plastic plates by a man and wife dressed as though they're cafeteria workers at Estancia High School. Its no-frills style extends down to the entrées, which don't stray far from the pad Thai/fried rice/curry/tom yum quadrant that dominates that country's eating in Orange County. In a county with many Thai restaurants but few great ones, MaDee is the epitome of a restaurant that's as great a place can be without being a hell of a restaurant. This isn't an insult: All the dishes here please better than their local competition—the curries, in particular, exhibit the nuances that distinguish Thai curry from its Southeast Asian competition. But this is a place definitely for the locals, for people who want the tried-and-true at their absolute height—the Lou Gehrig of Thai restaurants, as opposed to the Babe Ruth, which makes the décor even that much more telling.
There are a couple of regional specialties that hint at MaDee's ultimate worth. The moo ping is similar to a chicken satay except better, sweeter; kao soi is a gorgeous soup composed of crunchy egg noodles submerged in yellow curry, then spiked with raw onions, chilies and other condiments, transforming the bowl from a hearty meal into something electric. A dish called "pork jerky with sticky rice" is more well-cooked pork with white rice, but it's spectacular and features a fish sauce that's the liquid equivalent of lightining. MaDee will probably always skew toward the safe given the demographics of its location, and that's fine: Sometimes all an eater wants is a heap of pad Thai, sweet and sticky, and MaDee will satisfy that yen like a honey in a bikini on Balboa come sunset.
This column appeared in print as "The Lou Gehrig of Thai Cooking."
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