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Food & Drink

Eat This: Spicy Duck Curry at Thai Thai

Photo: Jonathan Rienstra

Photo: Jonathan Rienstra

At night, the rooftop bars of Lowest Greenville cap the street and neon signs blaze overhead while cars jockey for valet rights and couples brave crosswalks to get from the wine bar to Truck Yard. In the dark lens of the evening, it all looks so polished and shiny.

But it only takes a short walk down the street for the sheen to wear off. There, down by Ross, is a strip of little renown. It’s so pedestrian that it’s possible you’ve driven past it dozens of times without noticing what businesses called it home. I did, for a long time. Beside the bright lights of HG Sply and GAPCo, the nondescript facade of Thai Thai blends in with the liquor store and nail salon and Law Offices of Eric Cedillo and John’s Cafe. You can’t be blamed for not seeing it.

There’s no shine in Thai Thai. It’s a rectangle of gray carpet and plain tables surrounded by plain pea-green walls adorned with scenes of Thai beaches. It’s not kitsch, though there are undoubtedly ironic simulacrums somewhere out there striving for its understated simplicity.

And forget cocktails with lofty goals to transport you to Bangkok or stir up memories of Siam. This spot is strictly BYOB — a feature thanks to that liquor store two doors down. Do 7 And 7s go with Pad Kee Mao? The table next to me on one visit thought so.

But you come to Thai Thai because they make the best Thai food in the city, and I come for one dish above all: The Spicy Duck Curry.

When talking heads on the Food Network speak of “depth of flavor,” they’re talking about this dish. You start with the red curry and coconut milk, which bring together that blend of creamy sweetness and deep heat that can be customized on the universal scale of 1 through 5. In each bit of rice and curry, you endeavor to combine the acidity of the bell pepper and tomato with a bit of the pineapple. All of that would be enough for a good dish. But this is a great dish.

Somehow, the duck skin is crispy, even after swimming in the curry, and this would make you think that the duck itself is likely as dry as jerky. But duck is a fatty bird under that skin, and there’s some sort of meaty ideal to a crunchy but moist bite of duck that’s exploding with that unctuousness while being coated in sweetness and heat. It’s, simply, depth and after your first dive in, you find yourself truly present with the bowl in front of you.

After all, that’s what great food does: It makes you fully in the moment. You can’t go all in on the duck right off the bat. Instead, The Spicy Duck Curry is like an adventure, as your chopsticks skip around between the different parts of the bowl, finding the rhythm. First some bell pepper, then put the duck after that, sweeten with the pineapple and cool everything off with rice. 1, 2, 3, 4 and back around.