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Mongkut Thai

December 2, 2014

After two trips to this particular restaurant this year, I couldn’t believe I’ve never blogged about it.  In fact, my parents, myself and my husband have been going to this restaurant for about 4 years now.  In fact, its one of my husband’s favorite restaurants.  My husband and I both requested, this year, that we have our birthday meals at this particular restaurant because we enjoy it so much.  If only the restaurant was located a little bit closer to where we lived, my husband and I would probably find ourselves regular customers at this restaurant.  Regardless, in the 4 years we’ve been coming here to this family-owned restaurant, we’ve always been greeted with open arms and the owners and the wait staff always seem to recognize us.  Although, the recognition may come from the fact that my husband and I also chose to have our wedding reception luncheon at this particular restaurant, thereby closing down the restaurant for one afternoon for our little gathering.

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As my husband and I were making wedding plans, we were trying to figure out an appropriate location to hold a luncheon gathering to celebrate with our close friends and family.  My mom had mentioned in passing that they had a family friend, really and old colleague of my dad’s, that they knew owned a restaurant.  It had been years since they had been in touch, but they had heard through the grapevine that this gentleman still owned a restaurant, so my parents volunteered to get in touch with this family friend so that we could see if perhaps he might have the type of restaurant where we could hold a reception.  Located in San Clemente, a sleepy beach and surf community at the southern edge of Orange County, practically on the San Diego County line, Mongkut Thai has occupied a small little space along the city’s main drag since 1986.  In operation for just under 30 years, this is the type of restaurant that’s intimate enough that repeat customers become regulars and the owners know your name and your order before you even place it.  Serving traditional Thai dishes, the restaurant is a family operation with the owner’s wife as the head chef.  After our first meal at Mongkut Thai in 2010, my parents, myself and my husband have been hooked to the unique flavors and cozy, comfy atmosphere of the restaurant.

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For my husband and I, each meal has to start out with a glass of Thai iced coffee.  It’s a staple that my husband and I order at every Thai restaurant we go to, without fail.  At Mongkut Thai, they make the coffee strong, with the addition of a splash of heavy cream, this beautiful glass is brought to your table.  All you need to do is use the straw to combine the cream and the iced coffee and you have yourself a refreshing and delicious glass of classic Thai iced coffee.  For me, the stronger the coffee flavor, the better, since some places tend to make Thai iced coffee too sweet.  Mongkut Thai has their classic Thai iced coffee made just to my liking.

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From the first time my husband and I ever dined at Mongkut Thai to today, we have fallen in love with one dish in particular.  It’s this specific dish that keeps us coming back, it’s this particular dish that makes us both choose to want to dine her for our birthday meals.  The dish is an appetizer dish that the owners created called Thai Wraps.  It’s a bit of a play on the famous Chinese lettuce wraps, but in this case made with a distinctively Thai flair.  The dish is described as an Eastern Thai style dish made with crispy rice, ground chicken, cilantro, peanuts, fresh ginger and onions and tossed with a spicy lime sauce and served with cool Romaine lettuce leaves.  This truly may be my favorite dish at any restaurant I’ve ever dined at.  My husband and I can’t come to Mongkut Thai without at least one order of Thai wraps, sometimes two, and sometimes we even have to get an order to go for home.  It’s really that good.  The play of the sweet, spicy, salty and savory, the cornerstones of Thai cooking all come together in this dish.  The crunch of the crisp and cool Romaine lettuce together with the crispy rice and the peanuts and onions all combined with the softness of the ground chicken and the cilantro and the sour and tang of the spicy lime sauce and the bite of the fresh ginger, it really just awakens all of the taste buds.  My husband and I have joked that we would make the drive down to San Clemente just for the Thai Wraps alone, regardless of whatever else the restaurant might serve.

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Another dish my husband really enjoys is the tom yum goong, the spicy Thai shrimp soup.  I mentioned years ago in a previous post that my husband really loves his tom yum goong, which is saying a lot since my husband isn’t really a soup person at all.  But again, it’s the classic Thai flavors of salty, sweet, spicy and savory that all come together in a flavorful soup broth that really draws my husband in.  Here at Mongkut Thai their soup is made with shrimp served in a spicy lemongrass broth with mushrooms, onions and cilantro.  I make sure to give my husband all the mushrooms as he really enjoys the earthy flavor of the mushrooms after they’ve soaked up all of the delicious lemongrass broth.  Unlike other Thai restaurants, the tom yum goong here at Mongkut Thai really relies solely on the lemongrass broth rather than adding the element of tamarind oil and other spices to create the distinctive orange-red broth most people associate with tom yum goong.  Here, you end up with an almost translucent lemongrass broth that is both fragrant, pungent, rich and a little bit spicy and tangy.

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After having dined at Mongkut Thai several times and wanting to try new dishes, I happened upon a dish once that caught my eye.  It was the yum salmon.  In Thai, the word yum pretty much means fresh ingredients that are tossed in some sort of vinaigrette to create a fresh salad.  In this case, its deep fried salmon tossed with mint leaves, onions, celery, cilantro, carrots and spicy lime dressing.  You toss the fresh ingredients with the lime dressing and you allow the citrus to breakdown the fresh ingredients and essentially “cook” them.  The flavors of the rich, fatty deep-fried salmon compliment with the citrusy-acidic lime dressing and flavorful onions and cilantro.  There is just a hint of mint undertones in the salad, and the celery and the onions also create a nice refreshing crunch and texture to the entire dish.  It’s such a contrast of textures and colors and flavors that all bombard the senses.

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If fish and seafood isn’t your thing, you can also order the yum nua.  In this case, it’s almost the exact same dish as the yum salmon, except its made with nua, which is Thai for beef.  The flavorful and tender grilled beef is tossed together with onions, celery, lemongrass and mint leaves in a spicy lime dressing.  It’s this spicy lime dressing that brings everything together and marries the flavors so they all fit.  The celery and carrots and onions all create a perfect crunch and contrast in texture to the tender, perfectly grilled beef which has been cut into strips.  This is the perfect type of dish to enjoy on its own, or perhaps with some sticky rice like many Thai people tend to enjoy these types of salads with.

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My mom is a huge fan of one of the restaurant’s specialty entrees, the drunken noodles.  Made with rice noodles stir fried with tomato, onions and Thai basil, the dish is just slightly on the spicy side.  Spicy enough to be flavorful and a favorite of my mom, dad and my husband.  Just spicy enough that I I’ll eat a little, but not too much because I’m not a fan of spicy.  But this is definitely a dish my mom always orders every time she comes to Mongkut Thai.

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In an attempt to mix things up a bit, I’ve also tried the magic ocean fin which is deep-fried salmon prepared with bell peppers, ginger, mushrooms, celery and carrots.  Again, it’s the wonderful Thai cooking concept of sweet, salty, spicy, savory all combined into one dish.  The texture of the deep-fried salmon mixed with the spices creates a wonderful, heady combination.  The bite of the ginger, and the crunch of the bell peppers and mushrooms with the celery and carrots.  All of this is a classic Thai style of cooking using lots of vegetables and spices together.

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For another non-seafood dish there’s the Thai chicken Shangri-La.  This dish is made with chicken, oyster sauce, mushrooms, snow peas, carrots and green onions.  Again, all classic Thai ingredients.   The oyster sauce, a classic Thai ingredient, helps to create a gravy, or a sauce, which brings the dish together.  The snow peas and the mushrooms  a texture contrast to the tomatoes and green onions and the tender chicken.  Once again, this dish brings forth the spicy, sweet, salty and savory.

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As if these entrees wouldn’t be enough to quench any appetite, there’s also dessert to consider and Mongkut Thai has some great ones.  If you’re just looking for something simple, why not just grab a cup of coconut ice cream.  A little sweet, a little tropical, coconut ice cream is a sweet ending to any meal, especially if you just finished a spicy meal where your tongue is on fire.

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What a little something more than just ice cream?  How about the Siamese banana.  This dessert is made with deep-fried banana served with two scoops of ice cream, coconut in this case, and then flambéd at the table in front of your eyes.  Once the flame dies out, you’re left with a wonderful combination of deep-fried banana, a classic Thai breakfast, snack and dessert item, and some cool, refreshing coconut ice cream.  A little sweet, a little tropical and wonderfully tasty.  It’s sure neat to see the dessert flambéd at the table as well!

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Finally, during the right time of the year, Mongku Thai also serves my favorite Thai dessert, kao neao na ma-muang, or translated in English to sticky rice with mango.  Homemade sticky rice is sweetened with coconut milk and topped with fresh sliced mango.  You can’t go to any Thai restaurant and not see this on the menu when mangoes are in season.  And it’s a dessert that you just can’t mess it.  Sweet and flavorful, it’s everything that reminds me of Thailand.

Yum, just writing about all this food at one of my favorite restaurants makes my mouth water.  I think it’s time I go back and pay Mongkut Thai another visit, after all my birthday is coming up again soon.  I think this may be my request for my birthday meal.  Great food, great owners, terrific atmosphere all set amongst the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean in the sleepy surf community of San Clemente, a perfect setting.  Who ever thought you could find amazing Thai food in a setting like this?  If you ever find yourself in South Orange County, you need to do yourself a favor and check out Mongkut Thai.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

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