Place: Araya's Vegetarian Place , University District
On the plate: Per the menu: "Classic Thai spicy wide rice noodles stir-fried>"/>
Dish: Drunken Mushrooms
Place: Araya's Vegetarian Place, University District
On the plate: Per the menu: "Classic Thai spicy wide rice noodles stir-fried in garlic & chili with veggies beef, Portabello and other mushrooms." The other mushrooms are shiitake and white button mushrooms, and there's also red and green bell pepper, asparagus, and fried Thai basil.
Supporting cast/What to do: You'll be asked how spicy you want the dish, but the dishes are less spicy than promised. This surprised me, since Araya's was features on Food Network's Heat Seekers as a "Thai restaurant with dishes that bring all comers to their knees." Be prepared, then, to request the special plate with spoons of spices so that you can raise the roof on the heat.
Noodling around: Drunken mushrooms features one of my favorite noodles: wide rice noodles. They're fresh and essentially flash-cooked in the wok to warm them through, with their wideness keeping them a prominent part of the dish. Their size enables them to absorb flavors and carry the sauce--and they still have the chew that sometimes gets lost in thinner noodles.
In this preparation, mushrooms are a key to the flavor. As Araya's is a vegetarian restaurant, recipes are non-dairy, non-egg, and non-fish sauce. Mushroom sauce substitutes for fish sauce, though this dish also uses sweet soy sauce to impart flavor. Fried Thai basil is nice touch, adding both flavor and texture. And it's nicely plated, with asparagus artfully arranged.
I was told that "veggies beef" is, as you may have guessed, "fake veggie meat." I've never been a big fan of just throwing this in a dish, but understand if it's a protein source and an alternative texture.
My only disappointment, as mentioned above, was the spice level. "Mortar-and-pestled" chili peppers (and garlic) should have provided powerful heat, as shown in the Heat Seekers segment. I much prefer to have the chilis cooked into the dish than having to add it in myself--especially if I've requested a high spice level.
If you want more: There are many appetizers, but especially if you have company, I recommend the avocado curry ($13.95). I cook a lot of Thai curry, but this is the first time I've had it with avocado--and I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked in the dish. This is a green curry, in which you'll find both soft and fried tofu, more of that veggie beef, bell peppers, Thai basil, and something called "bean composition," which is apparently made from variations of soy bean.
Be aware/beware: I ended up here after trying to get into OK Noodles, which was surprisingly closed on a Friday night. (Many others encountered a closed restaurant recently, but it's reopened with new owners, and I featured it in last week's Mein Man.) So, for those wondering, this is how I found myself in a vegetarian restaurant. I was skeptical at first, but ultimately pleased with the quality and creativity. Araya's has a way with cooking vegetables. Now, if they'd just boost those spice levels...