I have boxing to thank for a great Thai dinner this past Sunday night. I wouldn't normally connect an aggressive, sweaty sport to a good meal, but in this case it worked on many levels.
I got to this dinner through a friend who used to take boxing lessons from a man named Dream, who is a jack of many trades - actor, dancer, producer, festival creator, personal trainer. Dream (his name in Thai translates to Dream) spent his formative years in restaurant kitchens. He quite literally grew up there, often finding himself as a young boy being bathed in the sink next to all the dishes and napping under the cash register. His parents, as well as his grandparents, operated several well regarded Thai restaurants in Texas. He went in and out of caring about the restaurant scene, but he grew to love boxing, which he learned from his grandfather, who was a very accomplished fighter. As he became competitive himself, he took on clients to teach all that he had learned.
Dream's parents started their restaurant career making two curries and one pad thai out of a kitchen smaller than a food truck. Watching their hard work growing up, inspired him, especially when at age 30, he lost his job, his car and his girlfriend.
His grandmother slipped him a wok and a few restaurant supplies and he began cooking vats of pad thai and bringing them to friends and businesses where he used to work, and Pad Cycle was born. He hand delivered, or rather cycled, two kinds of pad thai, chicken and tofu, and eventually became the Thai kitchen for a bar next door to his apartment that didn't have the ability to serve their own food.
He wasn't ready to open his own restaurant, but he did like sleeping and paying his bills, so he reluctantly began waiting tables. The table waiting phase was tough for someone with his restaurant experience, so he started investigating creating his own Thai pop-up. He eventually met a nice guy running Biscuit Cafe in West Hollywood who agreed to let him take over the cafe on a Sunday, when they're normally closed to the public. Dream had planned on doing two seatings for his debut, but due to a great response, he ended up with three.
Thai newspapers covered the windows, and the name "Pranom" was displayed out front, after his grandmother who helped get him on his Thai cooking feet. The inside of the restaurant was a bright and cheery neon green with simple wood chairs and brown paper covered tables.
The menu was hand written on brown paper, taped to the wall.
A friendly staff poured watermelon, vodka, lychee cocktails that were refreshing and a nice accompaniment to the heat of some of the ingredients.
The dishes were simple, but fresh, in presentation and substance. Plain white plates arrived for the first course with small bits of light crab on a green mango salad with tomatoes and roasted peanuts.
This airy dish was the ying to the pan roasted duck's yang. The duck was perfectly cooked and served with a heat inducing green mango salad with chilies, lime and cilantro - all the flavors you want in good Thai cooking.
Dream's Tom Ka Gai was a creamy, rich, flavorful bowl of coconut milk, chicken, lemongrass and mushrooms. And his infamous pad thai was cutely served in a Chinese to-go container with chop sticks. The noodles were well done with a slightly sweet sauce and a little heat for balance, alongside large chunks of chicken and cooked egg.
The Prik Khing Chicken had a lot of spice from the chili paste, while the thai red curry shrimp was sweeter with the addition of coconut milk, kaffir lime and pineapple. It was a sea of yellow, but one that I would happily float in.
Coconut ice cream and mango sorbet with a passion fruit caramel sauce cooled our palates at the end of our meal.
Things went so well for Dream at his first pop-up, that the owner of The Charleston, where former Thai Iron Chef battler Jet Tila cooks, has agreed to give him space to host a Pranom dinner on June 27. In addition to great, fresh Thai cooking, Dream is going to tap into his dance and music video network for an evening of "good eats with good beats." Message me if you'd like to learn how to join his next dinner, and support someone's Thai dream.