Dueling Dishes: Thai Green Shrimp Curry
For this week's challenge I picked two local Thai joints, both of which have two locations.
The first contender: Urban Thai, in Aliso Viejo's Town Center mall (the other branch is in Corona). The menu has all the usual suspects, but it's the beer selection that intrigued me, as it included two types I'd never seen before on any drinks list, anywhere: James Boag from Tasmania and Hinano from Tahiti.
As for the green shrimp curry, it arrived, still bubbling, in a deep white dish. The sauce was rich and thick, while the taste was spot on: hot, tangy and coconutty but not sickly. As well as a generous number of plump crustaceans, there were slices of red pepper and bamboo shoots, plus rich, gooey chunks of eggplant. I could've lived without the potatoes, but that's just a personal preference.
The portion was massive, but, on the downside, the "steamed rice for two" was merely a tiny bowlful, whose contents were devoured in a flash.
Unfortunately, the price of the curry--$16--is a bit of a stinger, although, to be fair, it's enough for two people if you're not overly hungry.
Now to George's Thai Bistro, at 3732 S Bristol St., Santa Ana (the other location is Costa Mesa).
The green shrimp curry--which costs just $8.50 here--arrived on a plate with two mounds of rice on the side. So it's definitely meant to be for just one person, although I still had leftovers. Which I promptly forgot.
The sauce wasn't as thick as at Urban Thai, but the flavor was still good, thanks to plenty of Thai basil (providing that crucial aniseed kick) and lots of juicy shrimp and red pepper chunks. They'd gone overboard with the julienned bamboo shoots, but at least it meant I could skip the V8 that night.
As I blogged about last week, the background music on this particular visit was hideously depressing. That, combined with George's dingy interior, didn't exactly put a spring in our step, but it's hard not to like this dingy neighborhood dive. The beer selection's not as sexy, granted, but Singha's fine by me.
In terms of the actual dish, it's hard to pick a winner. Although Urban Thai's curry was nearly double the cost of George's, the portion was bigger, and the rich sauce addictively indulgent. They skimped on the rice, sure, but at least it was included in the price.
I do have another minor gripe with Urban, though: It turns out that, as with George's, it offers a spicing level of one to ten for its entrées. However, the servers didn't mention this at the time. At George's, I always ask for a number six, and so far it hasn't failed me, although I've heard other people complain that the scaling can be erratic.
Verdict? For a quick bite, or if you're eating alone, I'd say George's. For something a tad more glamorous, and to avoid the risk of clinical depression, I'd say Urban Thai. And at least that way you can drink the beer of Tahiti, even if you never make it there.
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