Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, September 26, 2002
A Little Home
Siu mai (dumplings) $5.95
Thai beef salad $7.25
Lard nar (with chicken) $6.95
Tom yum soup (with shrimp) $10.95
Eastern Treats

Mix Thai and Chinese cuisines and whaddaya get? A Little Home.


A Little Home

6456 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. 817-569-7880. Lunch Tue-Fri and Sun 11am-2:30pm. Dinner Tue-Thu 5-9pm, Fri-Sat 5-10pm, Sun 5-9:30pm. AE, D, MC, Visa.

Little Home. With a name like that, this place could be a home-furnishings store or a home-cooking restaurant.

The chosen name of this Thai-nese (Thai and Chinese) restaurant will confuse more than a few diners until Little Home and Asian food develop a symbiotic relationship in the minds of Fort Worthians. But why such a nondescript name? ďItís simple,Ē said owner Tommy Chantharojwong. ďThe building is shaped like a house, a little home.Ē Indeed, the former IHOP building does have the steep A-frame design of a house.

The name is simple and it reflects the cuisine. Thatís simple, not simplistic. Flavors like coconut, Thai basil, and galangal compose A Little Homeís culinary foundation, and they are neither simplistic nor dull.

The restaurantís Thai beef salad is a perfect example. Strips of beef skirt steak are marinated with fish sauce, lime, galangal, and basil, cooked, and then chilled. The salad is finished with a shocking amount of red onion and pepper flakes and served on a bed of lettuce. On the surface, itís a simple dish, but it actually offers a complex array of flavors.

Green curry soup takes its name from its base curry powder, but the dish could easily have been named for its abundance of fresh vegetables: fresh peas, julienne strips of red and green pepper, small chunks of eggplant, mushrooms, and carrots. Oh yeah, there were also tender strips of beef in it. Although this dish has about as much heat as medium salsa, it will satisfy a pepper fiend: The first and last tastes are of sweet coconut, garlic, and galangal (the flavor that catches in the back of the throat). Galangal root, often called Thai ginger, tastes like black pepper on fresh ginger ó itís pungent, sweet, and peppery.

Tom yum was also the perfect sum of its parts and medicinal to boot. The best cure for a head cold is a steaming hot and spicy bowl of tom yum with shrimp. The combination of kaffir, lemongrass, galangal, and chicken stock clears the head and warms the heart. The gigantic serving that I took home to an unwell family member was ordered ďThai hot.Ē It was well balanced and appropriately spiced.

The lard nar noodle dish was also simple yet full of intrigue. Wide rice noodles are stir-fried and then topped with European-style brown gravy with chunks of meats and vegetables. The version served at A Little Home featured two items most often found in Chinese cooking, not Thai food: fermented mung beans and Chinese broccoli. Both added a distinctive flavor to the standard Thai dish. The beans were salty and lip-pursing pungent, and the broccoli (which resembles broccoli rabe) was bitter, but the dish as a whole was delicious, especially when a perfect forkful of noodle, rabe, chicken, and bean was assembled. (Noodles are so important to Thai cuisine that an important person is often said to be sÍn yŗi, a big noodle.)

A couple of the items my guest and I tried were predictable. Thai sushi, for example, was a vegetable spring roll, minus meat. It had a thick scallion running through the middle like a spine, which ó rather than providing support for the roll ó merely overwhelmed it.

One item that I thought would be predictable was the siu mai dumplings. One look at the six little darlings and you knew that they were handmade and far from ordinary. These small pasta cups were gently tied at the top and had uneven edges (pre-made dumplings usually have broken edges). They were stuffed with lightly seasoned ground pork or a pork and beef mix and topped with what looked like ground peanuts but were actually crumbled bits of fried garlic. It was a pleasant surprise for a garlic lover.

I found only one dud on the menu ó the fish cakes. In truth, they may not have been duds; the problem may have been my expectations. Iíve ordered fish cakes in at least a dozen Thai restaurants from New York to San Francisco and Iíve never eaten a single fish cake that didnít disappoint. I want them to taste like Spanish or Portuguese fish cakes, which are made from bacalao (dried salt cod) or even shrimp toast. I want them to taste like anything but what invariably lands on the plate ó greasy, salty pads of gluten with fish flavor mixed in. The Little Home rendition was also a peculiar shade of salmon.

Fort Worth desperately needs more culturally diverse restaurants, and A Little Home fills the bill. The little home is homey. Itís tastefully appointed, and the artwork ó framed sets of jewelry ó adds visual interest. The service is also homey. The wait staff hovers just a bit, and our waitress expressed apparently genuine concern when a dish was not fully consumed ... like the fish cakes.

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