Thin Wheat Line is a weekly exploration of all things noodle-y in Seattle.
Noodle: Kao soi
Source: Noodle Boat Thai Cuisine, 700 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Suite E 104(b),
Issaquah, (425) 391-8096.
I don't know why it has taken me so long to check out Noodle Boat, since it's the restaurant that all my friends who grew up or have traveled a lot in Thailand tell me is their favorite. The 25-minute drive from Seattle to Issaquah shouldn't be a deterrent, considering that when I was reviewing restaurants in the Bay Area I would regularly drive an hour to get to an amazing Afghan or Singaporean restaurant (though I did have to lie to my friends about the distance to get them to come along).Once I located the strip mall restaurant, all omens were positive. There's more purple in Noodle Boat than a Red Hat Society convention (the electric-violet velour curtains: wow). The menu's printed on a fan, convenient since February is the hot season in Issaquah. And I didn't recognize at least a half-dozen dishes on the menu.
The dish my friend Anne told me I needed to order was the kao soi, noodles in curry soup with pickled cabbage. Kao soi has a fascinating pedigree, picking up influences from Yunnan and Burma en route to Chiang Mai and now Washington State. And let me tell you, the kao soi, which came in a ceramic noodle boat, were everything Anne described: Bathed in a yellow coconut curry that was at once lime-tart and turmeric-fragrant. Flushed out with enough fish sauce to detect. The sweetness from the coconut and the prickle of the chiles showed up later, entwined like a pair of lovestruck teenagers, while the pickled cabbage interrupted with shocks of salt and the fried noodles on top, crunchy flashes.
The noodles also presented me with two related problems. Number one: What implements do you eat kao soi with? After my meal, I emailed Anne to ask, and she told me I could have said yes to the waitress's offer of chopsticks. Number two: I found myself at a table where I was facing a long row of white people, and I realized that I'm so used to eating noodles in Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese restaurants that I've forgotten how to do it without slurping. I spent a tense meal with a spoon and fork trying to herd the skinny egg noodles into my mouth without permanently polkadotting my shirt or making the mnyum-mnyum-mnyum noises my nephew utters when he truly loves what he's eating.