Photography by Kevin A. Roberts
Tucked a few doors off the Loop’s east end, Fork & Stix has a sleek-looking storefront, minimalist and impressively sophisticated for a small, family-owned ethnic restaurant. One wall includes a chalkboard with pleasant musings (though beware brushing against it if you sit there); light fixtures are made of multicolored Mason jars that once housed goodies, such as jellies and jams.
The menu is relatively unadorned and inexpensive, a single sheet of $5 to $8 items printed on both sides, including some entrées from the years the owners spent in Japan. That’s good—focusing on a limited number of possibilities lets the kitchen keep better control of the action. Some of it’s familiar, but a few items from Chiang Mai (a city and province in Northern Thailand) are new to those of us who learned about Thai food here in St Louis.
Starters are the stars here. Sai oua, a Chiang Mai–style pork sausage, is redolent of lemongrass. It’s coarsely ground and lower in fat than some sausage, the only flaw a little dryness in the end pieces of the cut-up links, a small price to pay for its overall tastiness. Crying Tiger includes tender pieces of grilled beef, some still a little pink. The accompanying nam jim jaew sauce is the crowning touch, tart and spicy with dried chilies, but slightly sweet in traditional Thai style. Papaya salad is also good, with bits of raw green beans adding a layer of taste. Alas, the optional crab is mostly unnoticeable, buried in the crunch and spice of the vegetables and dressing.
Another Chiang Mai specialty is the hung lay curry, with pork loin and pork belly in yellow curry, sweetish with a hint of coconut, as well as a nice hit of ginger and tartness from tamarind. If ever there were a perfect use for pork belly, this is it. The pieces are about the size of dice; they gambol quite nicely with the balanced sauce. The loin isn’t cooked to the point of being rubbery, which is easy to do with the lean cut. Khao soi is another northern dish, again yellow in color, with a soup-like consistency and rice noodles, mustard greens, and a bit of chili paste. The paste likes to stick to itself, so be sure to stir it in, lest you get a serious back-of-the-throat attack. Coconut notes are heavier here, with the pickled mustard greens and crispy noodles adding color and texture.
Pad Thai is a disappointment. There’s a generous quantity of shrimp, to be sure, but hesitant seasoning, greasiness, and a minuscule lime wedge drag the dish down. Still, the aforementioned nam jim jaew manages to even the keel. In the Japanese section, yakisoba, a noodle stir-fry with chicken, is pleasant but unremarkable. The soy-based sauce includes carrots, turnips, and onions; it would be a safe choice for the spice-hesitant diner.
There are forks, yes, and stix, but no liquor is served here. Indulge instead in an interesting variation of Thai iced tea, made with lime juice rather than evaporated milk, but still sweet, with the lime juice nicely balancing the flavor.
Service is accompanied by many warm, welcoming smiles, as if the room full of diners were marrying into the restaurant owners’ family. There were no objectors.
The Bottom Line: Find something old and something new at this cute little hole in the wall.
Fork & Stix
Lunch Tue–Sun, dinner nightly