Thai food can be hard to find in Howard County there’s currently only two Thai restaurants. One of the old staples, Bangkok Delight, closed a few years back and I’ve been trying to find a place that sufficiently scratched my Thai food itch like Bangkok Delight did. Little did I know that my answer was sitting underneath my nose the entire time.
Currently to my knowledge (let me know if I’m wrong) but the legitimate Thai restaurants in Howard County are Thai Aroma and Siam Spice. I’ve never been to Siam Spice, but judging by my experience at Thai Aroma, I may never find out.
There are a few critical things in order for a Thai restaurant to be good in my book, ingredient usage, their curries, and finally the Pad thai. If these three things hit the mark, I’m usually sold. Perfect Thai food to me, is all about balance, you need to have all the flavors in there but they need to work in a perfect synergy. That means it shouldn’t be too sweet or too spicy, it needs to be just right. If you didn’t already know, I’m a LOVER not a fighter of Thai food. In these past years my lack of a local Thai carry-out place has forced me to try my hand at Thai cooking and while it’s often been successful there’s still nothing like good take-out or dine-in Thai food.
All of this leads me to today’s post which is a review of Thai Aroma. Thai Aroma, located in the Rt. 40 Lotte Plaza Shopping Center has been around for awhile but I never gave it too much thought in the past. Most likely that’s due to the fact that I was partial to Bangkok Delight and you know how things are when you become loyal to one place, you get food blinders and you only eat there when you’re craving that food.
So when Mrs. Unmanly Chef and I visited Thai Aroma this past Friday we went in with very high hopes that Thai Aroma would receive our proverbial final rose when it comes to becoming our new Thai restaurant. When you walk into Thai Aroma you immediately are greeted and seated by their friendly staff, the seating area isn’t huge but it’s not cramped either. It’s clear that a bulk of their business appears to come from their take-out side, which is common with many Asian restaurants.
The thing that immediately struck me about Thai Aroma was their logical menu. You may be asking yourself,”what’s a logical menu?” The menu has labels that indicate what will take longer, what’s spicy, what’s not, and most importantly what are some Thai classics and favorites. That may sound silly to you, but having these are a great guide for someone who’s not used to eating Thai food or eating at this particular restaurant. More importantly, it’s a smart move by the restaurant because you’re more likely to enjoy your experience if you’re eating one of the favorites as opposed to something that they rarely make because it’s not very popular.
We started with a Thai iced tea which was overly sweet, I would suggest getting the iced coffee instead, the iced tea would have been better served if they cut back on the sugar a touch so the flavors of the tea and cream could intermingle better.
We placed our order which was Panang Curry with Chicken ( you can choose any kind of meat you want), Masamun Beef, and Shrimp Pad thai. My major gripe with the entire food service was just that they didn’t bring everything out at once, they brought the curries out one by one and finally the Pad thai much later on in the meal, making for a bit of an uneven experience. Luckily for Thai Aroma, their food is fantastic so I was so happy to get MORE food as the meal progressed that I didn’t mind it as much as I normally would.
The Panang Curry comes in a rich flavorful sauce that isn’t overly spicy but it has just enough kick, the coconut milk isn’t heavy handed in its usage but it adds a smooth texture to the sauce base. The star of this dish would be their usage of the Thai basil which creates a wonderful aftertaste in your mouth. This curry was so good that I would take just the broth portion and pour it over my Pad thai in heaping spoonfuls.
If you prefer other curries, Thai Aroma has just about every major curry dish you could want or think of. They also offer a host of standard issue Americanized Asian dishes to make sure nobody in your dining party goes home hungry.
The next course was a Masamun beef stew that was well prepared and seasoned. The curry in this stew has a pleasant anise flavor that lingers ever so slightly as you eat your meal. It’s not overpowering it’s just right. The beef is so delicate that is comes apart with your fork, this dish is easy to eat a lot of. It was hard to choose between the Panang Curry or the beef, but if I had to choose again I would probably give the edge to the Panang Curry.
The star of the evening though was the Pad thai with Shrimp, it was easily one of the best versions of the famous dish that I have ever had. It has everything that you want, spice, sweetness, a touch of bitterness, and just enough sour from the lime to bring everything together. They make the dish fresh, because as I mentioned previously it was a bit late to the party, tardiness aside the dish was remarkable and if I could eat it everyday I would. I would opt out of the shrimp next time though, only because the shrimp tails are not conducive to me stuffing my face with more noodles!
If you can imagine, we still ordered dessert, for me the final test to a great Thai place is their mango sticky rice. What is mango sticky rice? It’s basically a fresh mango that’s served over coconut flavored sweet sticky rice. The end result is the perfect end to a rich and often times spicy meal, the mango is a palette cleanser and the sticky rice calms all that spiciness down in your stomach.
Alas Thai Aroma missed the mark ever so slightly with their mango sticky rice, not because the sticky rice wasn’t well prepared (it was), rather the mango itself wasn’t fully ripened so it lacked the sweetness that you would normally get from an Ataulfo or Tommy mango (get up on your mango knowledge people!). My suspicious is that they used a less ripened mango, and that means that the mango is usually tougher and more sour than sweet. Due to the lack of mango sweetness, it took away from the experience.
In the darkness of my disappointment that was the mango sticky rice, came a ray of light, it was the taro balls. What’s taro you ask? It’s a root vegetable that in Thailand is traditionally diced into small cubes, boiled, and served in coconut milk. That’s exactly what I had and it was so damn good. The taro balls and I didn’t know what to make of each other at first, I was just a small-town girl looking for a good dessert and my first taste of the taro balls left me wondering whether I was supposed to like this dish or not. But with each bite (or slurp) I grew more addicted to the deliciousness that is this dessert. The taro balls have this funny gummy texture that goes perfectly with the mild yet rich coconut milk broth. I slurped the whole thing down in a few minutes. So yeah, the taro balls are a must try. They might not be for everyone due to the gummy texture, but I really enjoyed every aspect of the dessert in contrast with the mango sticky rice which was kind of a bust.
Overall, Thai Aroma is more than serviceable Thai restaurant in Howard County. The service is speedy, the prices are reasonable, and it’s fairly convenient to get to. The food is more hit than miss, since they basically only missed on mango sticky rice and iced tea.
My final grade is a B+
Taro Balls- Incredibly satisfying and comforting, a great palette cleanser, the taro balls are flavorful little chewy taro bites, the taro flavor is mild and not over powering. The broth is a coconut milk blend that’s sweet but not too sweet.
Negatives – They don’t time the dish delivery at all, curries came as they were prepared and then pad thai was delivered much later, made for a disorienting dining experience (maybe better served as carry-out). Constant bonging of their door entry system is irritating.