CrushCraft Is Not the Thai You Know but the Thai You Should

Two men brought a whole lot of chiles to Uptown, and they're burning things up.

CrushCraft Is Not the Thai You Know but the Thai You Should
Catherine Downes
It’s called phat ke mao. Just pretend it’s pad Thai, OK?

On a recent Friday afternoon, CrushCraft gave off the appearance of a restaurant that was firing on all cylinders. Customers from nearby office buildings had trickled down into the Quadrangle storefront, filling at least half of the tables in the dining room and the patio out front — not an overwhelming showing by any means, but respectable considering the restaurant had been open just more than a month.

At the tables, the tips of chopsticks pecked at bowls for morsels of meat and rice while their owners nodded in approval. "This is good," their faces seemed to say. "Surprisingly so," the other faces responded, as their chopsticks hunted and pecked again. CrushCraft had ushered a new style of Thai food into its Uptown neighborhood, and diners across the board looked pleased.

Well, not everyone. While I mulled over a mix of local and import beers chilled in a bucket of ice during my first visit, a man approached the counter holding a paper bowl on behalf of his wife. The dish was too spicy, he said politely, before asking if they would exchange it, which they did. Co-owner and chef Paul Singhapong, who has the Mansion on Turtle Creek and the French Room on his résumé, says the customer I witnessed was the exception — that only 1 or 2 percent of his diners say a dish is too hot, and that maybe the same number claim a dish is not fiery enough.

Location Info

Map

CrushCraft Thai Street Eats

2800 Routh Street, 150
Dallas, TX 75201

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

Details

CrushCraft

2800 Routh St., Suite 150, 972-677-7038, crushcraftthai.com. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday; 11:45 a.m.-3 a.m. Saturday; 11:45 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. $$

Kra pow $7.35

Moo ping $7.35

Khao soi $7.85

Papaya salad $5

Tofu fries $3.75

Singhapong wants you to know that, like most produce, the chiles he gets are often inconsistent, sometimes hot enough to blister the paint on a car and other times not hot at all. His cooks have to taste each batch as they come in to know how to proceed, he says. They're aiming at a moving target.

Singhapong also wants you to know that Thai cooking is not just about heat, as it may be portrayed in other restaurants. "It's about spice," he says, in a reference that may give you pause until you realize he uses the term to describe ginger, herbs, peppercorns and spices you might normally associate with your favorite cookie recipe.

Singhapong wants you to know all these things because he and his partner, Jack Nochkasem, are trying to differentiate CrushCraft from the quintessential American Thai restaurants that can be found around Dallas and beyond. Most serve dishes that are sweet and heavy, with thick sauces that cling to and overwhelm ingredients. They view capsaicin as a conduit for bravado, filling their dining rooms with sweating brows, running noses and the occasional gasp for air, but that's all wrong, according to the chef, who notes that Thai food doesn't have to be so hot you see colors when you eat it.

Still, piquancy is a matter of taste, which is exactly why he's set up a station toward the end of his front counter where you'll find the same condiments you see at many Thai restaurants. There's pulverized dried chiles that add a dusty, earthy heat, and a chile sauce that adds character and additional acidity. There are chiles floating in vinegar and chiles floating in fish sauce that add brightness and pungency, respectively.

There are also condiments that are less common in Thai restaurants, like a sweet and sour number in a round jar that looks a little angry when you open it. It's made with lime juice, fish sauce and sugar, with a little garlic, pepper and a lot of chiles, and the sauce might be in a slight state of fermentation as evidenced by the bubbles on the surface. "You can eat it with almost anything," Singhapong says, and he's right. It's delicious.

I first tried it with the laap isaan, which you may know better as larb gai. The mixture of ground beef gets its tangy flavor from an aggressive measure of lime juice, which jibes perfectly with the sweetness in the simultaneously sour sauce. A small amount of toasted, uncooked rice adds a nutty grit to the beef, and crushed dried red chiles slowly bring up the burn while you eat. It may be the greatest of all Thai dishes, and here it's my go-to order.

The sweet and sour sauce was just as good with the moo ping, which pairs grilled pork and a papaya salad with sticky rice. If you've ever noticed that rice is relatively easy to eat with chopsticks until the sauce from your dish washes away the stickiness of the grains, you'll love how sticky rice stands up to a thorough dousing and still sticks to bamboo. And how nice is it to see sticky rice used with something other than diced mango and coconut milk in a Thai restaurant?

CrushCraft, which partly takes its name from the flavor-freeing action of a mortar and pestle, has plenty of surprises despite its modest (disposable) tableware, lack of a waitstaff (critic, your order is ready!) and its fast-casual feel. The interior is far from an afterthought. Weathered boxes that used to hold ingredients line the walls and large sacks of rice are on display, evoking the scenery just outside a warehouse where you might find a street stall, selling pad Thai.

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2 comments
Greg820
Greg820

High quality, fresh, & spicy (heat and flavor).  Love the space, too.  This is not Americanized China-Thai, this is the real deal.

ThuyH
ThuyH

Great, authentic, affordable Thai food.  I agree that CrushCraft is a welcome addition to Dallas, but it's hard to take Scott Reitz seriously on Asian food if he thinks Dalat is remotely close to decent Vietnamese food.

 
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