When I’m ordering Thai or Indian food, please don’t give me a 1 to 5 spiciness scale. Authenticity in ethnic foods would dictate that meals are served the way the chef and origin of a dish intended it to taste like. For this reason, along with a boatload of mediocre ketchupy pad thai dishes and under or over spiced curries, I’ve been disenchanted with the Seattle Thai restaurant scene. I know that this may warrant a bit of controversy; many people want their food the way they like it and the word authentic, in regards to ethnic foods, can be a dangerous word.
That’s why I was surprised to say that I was transported to the streets of Thailand from the unlikeliest of places, from a food vendor in the middle of a neighborhood farmer’s market. It was my nose that led me to a sign displaying Shophouse manned by chef and owner Wiley Frank.
Shophouse brings “food off the path” dishes devoted to the craft of traditional Thai cuisine. Wiley Frank and his wife Poncharee Kounpungchart lived in Thailand experiencing food, culture and family for over a year. Lucky for us, Wiley and Poncharee share their acquired wisdom and knowledge with hungry customers at Columbia City Farmer’s Market on Wednesday afternoons.
I was lucky enough to have their mini curried loki salmon cakes featuring fish from Loki Fish Co and minced pork sautéed with gra pao basil, chiles, and garlic. The salmon cakes were loaded with Thai flavors and had a pretty visual appeal with the garnish of fried basil. The pork reminded me how well the Thai can employ the full spectrum of salty, sweet, sour and spicy in one or two dishes.
Shophouse was also a pop-up restaurant that made an appearance every Monday night at Licorous on Capitol Hill. Pop-up restaurants provide many of the same opportunities that food trucks offer to young chefs; It’s a way to test new dishes, let off some creative steam, expand their brand to new neighborhoods and otherwise take risks without the hefty upfront investment required for a traditional restaurant.
Unfortunately, Licorous permanently closed its doors last Monday along with Shophouse’s Monday night pop-up. Wiley hopes to grow on the concept of Shophouse and one day hopefully start a brick and mortar restaurant.
Keeping an eye on the young stars of the culinary world is like watching local bands play at small clubs. It’s one thing to watch a highly established, or even celebrity chef, start a restaurant with highly anticipated fanfare. It’s even more rewarding to discover humble young and up and coming chefs start small, gain some traction and become culinary rock stars.