SWEET PEPPERS THAI CUISINE
There’s a tendency for some to want to lump Thai food in with all of the other Asian cuisines out there -- Schezuan, Hunan, Catonese, even Japanese. And it’s easy to see why when Thai restaurants add items such as egg rolls and pot stickers and chicken teriyaki to their menus, essentially muddying the waters. But to write off Thai as a been-there-done-that deal would be to deprive yourself of flavors, textures and combinations you’ve likely never sampled elsewhere. s in Plainfield is a good case in point.
Décor/atmosphere: This is a simple restaurant that relies on brightly colored walls of burnt orange, amber and lime green and framed paintings depicting traditional Thai scenes to evoke a sense of the foreign. A few silk throw pillows in shades of purple, gold and tangerine cover the bench seat that lines one wall facing out toward laminated wood tables and wide-seated plastic chairs. Tables that seat two and four can be joined for larger parties, but it’s still a relatively small place that holds about 40 comfortably.
Menu: Yes, the aforementioned egg rolls, pot stickers and chicken teriyaki are here, but Sweet Peppers does a very nice job of keeping those to a minimum and putting the spotlight on Thai specialties, some better known than others. There are a healthy number of appetizers to choose from, ranging from the traditional satay (marinated chicken or pork served with peanut sauce, $5.95) to the more exotic shu mal (shrimp, onion and lotus root served steamed or deep-fried, $5.95).
Otherwise, the menu is divided into soups (meal-sized), salads, fried rice, noodles, curries and “entrees” (think steak, short ribs, marinated beef). Lime juice, lemon grass, straw mushrooms, onions and, naturally, sweet peppers play key roles in many of the dishes, such as tom kha kai (chicken soup with coconut milk, mushrooms, lemon grass and lime juice, $7.95 and $9.95), pad woon sen (glass noodles, sweet peppers, peapods, straw mushrooms and egg, $8.95) and the pla lard prik (tilapia topped with a tangy sauce, bell peppers, onions and carrots, $8.95).
Some Thai items can be spicy, so you need to watch the menu to see if an item’s been designated mild, medium or hot; you can ask for the “heat” to be adjusted up or down to your taste. Also, unlike many Thai places, you won’t find any MSG here, which is quite welcome.
What we tried: We started with the tad mun pla ($5.95) as an appetizer. These are deep-fried fish cakes, similar in texture to a more solid salmon patty, served with a sweet-and-sour sauce that tasted like a combination of ginger, wine vinegar and crushed peanuts. Despite the presence of a healthy mix of green onions, the fish cakes themselves erred toward the bland and slightly rubbery. However, the dipping sauce proved the perfect antidote, giving the punch it otherwise was lacking. With eight patties, each about the size of a half-dollar, there was just enough for two.
We also sampled the chicken pad Thai (rice noodles cooked in peanut oil, egg, bean sprouts, ground peanuts, $8.95). Yes, for those familiar with Thai food, this is a little like ordering spaghetti and meatballs in an Italian restaurant – it doesn’t get much more basic than this. Then again, if a place can make a good pad Thai, it’s a good indicator for the other items on the menu.
In this case, Sweet Peppers did a very nice job. The serving was enough for two servings with a liberal amount of chicken and enough crushed peanuts and green onions to thoroughly mix together. We missed the tofu and red pepper flakes that sometimes come with this dish, the former especially, but that’s a minor complaint. All in all, we’ll be ordering this again.
Sweet Peppers serves beer and wine, but we opted for one of the non-alcoholic tapioca drinks ($2.95), sometimes called bubble tea, that have become an expected part of the Thai experience. It’s essentially a tea-and-milk-based drink that’s blended with fruit juice and ice and has large tapioca balls at the bottom. We sampled the mango (there’s also green tea, taro, coconut, banana and tangerine) and found it delightful. It may look odd served in what looks like a beer stein and a half-inch-wide straw, but it was one of the highlights of the meal.
Child-friendly? Yes and no. There is a children’s menu with three options – pad thai, thai fried rice or pad see ew (stir-fried flat rice noodles with egg, carrot and broccoli in a sauce), each served with an egg roll ($5.95) – but your kids may turn their noses up at such exotic fare. Then again, no time like the present to expand their horizons.
Service: Our waiter had a bit of a rough time understanding us and he was a bit slow in checking on how we were doing, but he was friendly and eager to answer questions. And since he was working the whole room on his own, we’ll cut him some slack.
SWEET PEPPERS THAI CUISINE
Address: 12337 S. Route 59, Plainfield
Information: 815-577-5456, www.sweetpepperthai.net
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (delivery 5 to 8:30 p.m.)