The great kao soi drought in Seattle is over. For those who have been to Northern Thailand and experienced this creamy coconut curry soup, with curly yellow noodles and crispy fried bits on top, this is cause for celebration. For those who have not, Pestle Rock, a new Isan (Northern) Thai restaurant in Ballard offers an opportunity for education. Learn not only about this street food hall-of-famer, but also about what happens when Thai food takes a step upscale.
There are some people who will gasp when I mention that the entrees average around $15. Those who don't abandon ship at the prices will be pleasantly rewarded for their time and money. This nicely decorated restaurant takes sourcing seriously, and you can taste the high quality: the rich pig flavor in the muu yang, grilled wild boar collar. The same care that goes into the sourcing goes into the cooking: the Dungeness crab fried rice includes plenty of crab bits, and ample large chunks, making the $18 price tag seem downright reasonable for such an exceptional version of a usually cheap dish.
As intimated with the wild boar collar, Isan cooking lets diners step into a different part of Thailand than they are used to. The sai ua, a homemade sausage that packs just a touch of heat, comes with instructions from the friendly service staff: eat each slice with your hands, along with a bit of condiment (peanuts and peppers or pickled vegetables). And then there is the aforementioned kao soi.
While other places in Seattle serve this chalkboard special (though staff promise it will soon be a menued item), the only kao soi around that is true to its authentic best is at Pestle Rock. It is a soup so thick it's almost a stew, topped with an almost unnoticed, yet completely essential, sprinkling of pickled mustard greens. The curry flavor weighs down the springy noodles, a tension broken only by the crack of the fried noodles on top. Visitors to northern Thailand return mooning over kao soi, and now Pestle Rock, in addition to serving up very good upscale Thai food alongside IPA on draft, can cure that craving.