At Sakhuu, You're Welcomed
If you're not a social person, if you'd rather quietly eat at a table alone and enjoy peaceful solitude while you dine out, you might have a hard time enjoying yourself at Sakhuu Thai Cuisine, the new restaurant on Bryan Street that quietly opened earlier this fall. You might want to wear a baseball cap, or some other lid with a suitably wide brim. You should keep your head down and order quietly with a pointed finger.
If, however, you actually enjoy a lively and casual conversation with your waiter or waitress and you celebrate the occasional tableside visit from the chef, you'll likely enjoy the time you spend in this small East Dallas dining room. Owner Kyla Phomsavanh has assembled a warm and welcoming front-end staff who are just as likely to engage in a conversation about stand-out menu items and ingredient preparations as they are to inquire what part of the neighborhood you're from. Misanthropic diners be warned: It's very hard to feel alone here.
Hopefully, you actually enjoy a warm and welcoming staff. How else would you find out all the hard work the kitchen puts into the stuffed chicken wings? It's a true feat of culinary engineering.
The cooks somehow manage to remove the two small bones from the outer segment of the wing, leaving the skin and tip intact. The meat is then ground and mixed with cilantro, onions, toasted rice and other seasonings before it's stuffed back into the skin like a tiny poultry balloon.
The results are then baked until the wings are tender and cooked through, and the parcels are flash-fried when an order is placed. That last step renders any remaining fat from the skin, which is the secret to producing a thin, almost translucent crust that cracks and crunches when you take a bite. Carved into thin coins and fanned out on a plate in a sauce sweetened with honey, the two wings make for an impressive introduction to Sakhuu's menu. Every diner should order them.
Almost everything that emerges from bubbling oil here is worth eating, and each dish should be offered as a lesson for other Asian restaurants, which commonly practice deep-fried abuse. Forget the soggy, oil-logged egg rolls you're used to. Phomsavanh's paper-thin wrappers remain intact while they cook, keeping grease at bay and resulting in light, crisp pastry. The skin shatters when bitten, revealing a mixture of your choice of cabbage and thin-as-thread glass noodles or coarsely ground and well-seasoned chicken. The fried shrimp wraps are prepared with equal care but are boring and bland when compared with egg rolls and chicken wings with so much flavor.
If deep-fried snacks aren't your thing, you'll likely enjoy the papaya salad. It's not that the kitchen does anything special with the dish. Rather, this is one of those culinary creations that is almost impossible to muck up. The thin strands of yet-to-ripen fruit are tart as a Granny Smith apple, and the acidity is played up considerably with an aggressive dousing of lime juice. With fish sauce for pungency and dried chile for heat, the salad is simple, bright and absolutely delicious.
Hotheads take heed. When you're asked how spicy you'd like a dish, you'll be given an option of one through five. Resist the urge to ratchet up the spice to 10 or 20, which you can do, but the move only adds more of the same one-dimensional heat derived from dried chiles. Confidently stop at five and when your food arrives, ask for a small dish of freshly diced chiles you can add to your dish bite by bite. You'll add a fragrant green freshness to your dish and can make things as hot as your masochistic heart likes.
The fresh chiles work exceptionally well with the bright, vibrant acidic dishes like the papaya salad.
And in the laab gai, too. Order yours with ground chicken (each entrée comes with a choice of meats, tofu, veggies or shrimp) as it's traditionally prepared in Thailand and relish the subtle toasted-rice flavors and fresh cilantro, mint leaves and green onions, coarsely chopped so the herbs remain tough and toothy. Dispatch your recently acquired chiles here and knock back a big pull of ice-cold beer to douse the heat.
You'll need to bring your own booze. Like many newly opened restaurants in Dallas, Sakhuu is still awaiting its alcohol permits, but the lack of Sapporo and Tsingtao and other mainstream Asian beers provides an opportunity for fans of craft breweries. Stop by your favorite local beer store and pick up a boozy Belgian ale and notice how the effervescence and subtle hops scrub your palate clean with every sip. Want more bitterness? There's enough flavor and acidity in most of the dishes here to stand up to even the most hoppy of locally produced IPAs.
Try the yum woon sen. The delicious tangle of glass noodles is like a heap of wet hair with cilantro, green onion, red onion and lime juice. If you've grown sick of tart flavors, the pad woon sen takes the same dish in a savory and sweet direction.
The coconut milk employed in Phomsavanh's curries is the perfect foil for boozy brews as well. Each is based in a house-made paste the kitchen prepares ahead of time and freezes in batches. The difference between freshly made and store-bought pastes is night and day, and here it's even more apparent in a fresh green curry based in ginger, chiles and vegetables, or a rusty red Panang curry with dusky heat and the crisp citrus-like flavor of kaffir lime leaves.
Of course Bangkok Inn and other Asian BYOB restaurants have made this brilliant pairing possible for a long time in Dallas, but the cooking at Sakhuu carries a certain refinement that's often lacking elsewhere. Thankfully, Phomsavanh says his BYOB policy will remain intact, even after the restaurant is permitted to sell alcohol.
It's a nice gesture when considering they could soon be selling every drink on the tables here. Maybe that's part of why the dining room is such a fun place to be.
Or maybe it's the ingredients. Some of those chiles you've been lighting your face up with all night were grown in pots behind the restaurant. The garden isn't much to look at right now, but come spring it will be teeming with more peppers, herbs and other aromatics. The dry leaves of lemongrass already rustle in the wind, lightly scenting the air with citrus, and tender green onion shoots grow in comely rows. The scallions reach for the sun as quickly as they're trimmed and tossed into spicy stir fries: an endless supply of pungency, fueling what seems destined to become a neighborhood gem.
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