Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thai favorite needs a makeover

wondee siam panang curry
Image by scaredy_kat via Flickr
Spicy Panang curry is typical of Wondee's fare, though this dish was photographed elsewhere.

Editor's note: Today, I report on Wondee's, my favorite Thai restaurant; the inspirational story of a young food blogger who was born without a functioning digestive system; and continued confusion over whether growth hormones are used to raise grass-fed Australian beef.

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles in Hackensack is one of our fallback restaurants -- the place we go when the four of us can't decide where to eat or don't want to risk disappointment at a new venture. 

The food served at our last few meals there has been as good as ever -- crunchy, green-papaya salad; Thai fried rice, and whole, fried fish or jumbo shrimp in a sweet chili sauce -- and prices are reasonable, even after a recent increase. 

But when I looked around at the plain decor and worn carpeting, I was let down, even though I'm one of those people who feel you can't eat the wallpaper, so what difference does it make what the place looks like? 

I thought, Here's a great, reasonably priced restaurant that is in need of a makeover to showcase the talents of the chef-owner, Wandee Suwangbutra, who was hired to open several Thai restaurants in Manhattan before venturing out on her own.

On Saturday, we used the rear parking lot, across Camden Street from the public library, and sent our 14-year-old son in to get a table, while I parked.

We usually sit near the big plate-glass window on Main Street, but found our son at a  table next to the kitchen doors, opposite a serving station. The back of my seat was near an uneven, sloping part of the floor covered in worn carpeting.

When you use the rear entrance, you have to step up, something I don't always remember. To get to the small, plain restrooms, you have to step down. The walls are painted or covered in mirrors, with just the bare minimum of Thai-themed decoration.

It was between 5:30 and 6. We could hear a noisy group in a section of the L-shaped dining room we couldn't see, and tables were arranged for a party of eight, or so it seemed.

The only place for my car coat was the back of my chair and it dragged on the floor. My wife put my wool baseball cap in her lap after it fell to the floor twice. 

In view of my son's insistence on ordering won ton soup with pork and complaining that I order whole fish "all the time," we shared salads and a jumbo-shrimp entree, but I could eat only a little of the fried rice with vegetables, avoiding the pork, because I'm not eating meat.

I felt uncomfortable in my seat, but got through the meal and didn't kill myself on the uneven floor surfaces getting up to use the bathroom.

I brought one bottle of beer to the BYO. Service was good, as usual, but for the first time, we had to send back our entree, because the big shrimp were under-cooked.

Wandee herself came out of the kitchen, mopped up a puddle of sauce on the table and placed the replacement dish in front of us, explaining some customers ask for their shrimp just barely cooked. 

Not far away on Main Street is Bangkok Garden, a relatively expensive Thai place with a liquor license. I recall from a visit more than five years ago that it is nicely decorated.

Whole fish at Wondee's is $18; at Bangkok Garden, it is listed at $24.95 on the online menu.

Wondee's could do with a renovation. 

It's no kitchen nightmare, but wouldn't it be nice if Chef Gordon Ramsay stumbled in, embraced the warm and welcoming Suwangbutra family, and gave it a free makeover?

Wondee's, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1700.

Kitchen artist

Her parents named her Matisse, but she was born without a functioning digestive system, according to today's Parade magazine.

Then, in December 2010, the Reid family moved to the United States from New Zealand so Matisse could receive a new small and large intestine. Her first meal? Squid.

Now, the 10-year-old seafood lover is writing a cooking blog, Matisse's Kitchen, which I have added to my Blog List at the right.

Beef confusion

I relied on information from Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd. (MLA)  in writing a recent post about Nature's Reserve grass-fed beef, which is sold at ShopRite.

After I published the post, O say can you taste the grass?, I was contacted and told MLA had given me the wrong information: growth hormones are used in raising the cattle in Australia.

Last week, I received an e-mail from MLA, saying the Nature's Reserve Web site has been re-launched. I took a look and it says, "Raised without added hormones."

Well, at least Nature's Reserve beef is 100% grass fed from start to finish, and doesn't contain antibiotics or animal by-products -- kitchen scraps and bits of dead animals fed to cattle raised on feed lots in the U.S.

ShopRite is having a sale through Dec. 17 on Nature's Reserve Whole Beef Tenderloin for Filet Mignon at $8.99 a pound or $6.99 a pound with a store card.

Here is a link to the Nature's Reserve Web site: 

Nature's Reserve Beef from Australia

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  1. 1. The folks at Wondee's are wonderful and don't deserve to be ruined by a reality show that's more scripted than you think.

    2 Why would you let you wife hold your baseball cap in her lap? Hold it yourself.

    3. You should still inspect mussels, or at least give them a cursory glance, before dumping them into a pot.

  2. I was planning to ask them if they want to be part of the show.

  3. Just an FYI, Petite Soo Chow, the Chinese restaurant in Cliffside Park that Jason from Off the Broiler ranted and raved about and employed a male waiter that picked his nose on the job, as pointed out by Victor has been shut down once again for health violations (insect infestations). Is there no 3 strikes and you're out rule in NJ health inspections of restaurants?

  4. Thanks. I see it in today's health inspections.
    I'll be sure to mention it in my blogs.


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