Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New Dharma Garden

The recent changes at Dharma Garden are the most exciting thing to happen to the Chicago Thai food scene in years. After Heather Shouse published this article in August touting the fact that for her preparations of authentic northern Thai fare, the new owner earns the admiration of Thai cooks and staff at favorite places such as Aroy and Sticky Rice, I would have expected the Thai-obsessed eaters at LTHForum and elsewhere to flock to Dharma Garden, which just happens to be right around the corner from me. Instead, there has been virtually nothing of interest written about the place anywhere since Shouse’s article. Dharma Garden is now a special place that deserves better than the sparse or non existent crowds I see there daily.


I’ve gotten through only a tiny fraction of the Thai menu, a translation of which is available for the asking. My favorite dish so far is Gang Som – a thin, sour curry that’s available at a few other places around town. Dharma Garden’s is a richer broth that’s a bit more sour than others, and it’s served with perfectly crisp and moist pieces of delicious fried catfish. The soup’s abundance of vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower is perhaps a Western touch, and I enjoyed it.

Nam Khaow Tod, a dish made famous among internet foodies at places like Spoon Thai here in Chicago and Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, is also very good at Dharma Garden. Unlike Spoon, Dharma Garden makes its own pressed ham for this dish (and every other cured meat/ sausage on the menu). The pressed ham in this version seemed more tart than at other places, and that lent a delicious burst. It’s a terrific dish at both places, and Spoon wins on the extreme crispness of the rice croquette pieces. At Dharma they were good but a little soggy. For what it’s worth, I had the opposite textural problem with Dharma’s sausage, which seemed to spend to much time reheating in a deep fryer, rendering it palatable but dry. Great flavor nonetheless.

The translated Thai menu at Dharma Garden is 3-and-a-half pages long, and I look forward to enjoying a lot of it.

Dharma Garden
3109 W Irving Park Rd
773-588-9140