Chow, Baby: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On a near-daily basis for months now, Chow, Baby has been monitoring the “Coming Soon — Pho Bella” sign in the middle of the My Lan strip mall at Beach and Belknap sts. A new Asian eatery, hurrah! Gaps in the curtains revealed encouraging signs: fresh paint, a few weeks later some tables, chairs the next week. One day there it was, the long-anticipated “Now Open” sign — though not at Pho Bella. Next door, in a space that seemed permanently vacant, Thai Belknap Cuisine (4023 E. Belknap St., Haltom City) had sprung fully grown like Athena from the head of Zeus. No rah-rah grand opening here, but rather a tastefully understated commencement that perfectly suits Thai Belknap’s lovely décor, gracious service, and delicate fried banana rolls with coconut ice cream ($3).

The weak points of Chow, Baby’s mostly delightful lunch were at the beginning: Couldn’t taste any “marinated five-spice duckling” in the duck spring rolls ($4.95), though the accompanying sweet sauce was a treat; and the Thai dumplings ($3.95) were dry, as if they had been prepared that morning instead of to order. But the roasted pork chop (rice plate, a steal at $5.50) was amazing: a decent-size chop with a sweet glaze and crispy edges, served with a dry Chinese sausage that’s sending Chow, Baby back to the Asian market to find more. Haltom Volcano Seafood, a chef’s special ($10.50), was a pile of fruits de la mer: grilled squid, scallops, fat mussels, and large shrimp tossed in a sweet-and-sour sauce. As great as these dishes were, they were surpassed by, of all things, one of the lunch specials ($5.95-6.95): a fried tilapia fillet topped with what looked like lawn cuttings but was in fact a mélange of chopped peanuts, shallots, dried chili, fresh-picked mint, some other herbs Chow, Baby couldn’t I.D., and lime juice. Man, oh man. Pho Bella? Who cares. That’s old news.

Frill-Free Authenticity

Entering Taste of India (520 W. Park Row Dr., Arlington), Chow, Baby ran down its guidelines for spotting great ethnic hideaways. No frills? Check: a real hole in the wall, with dirty tables and floors, out-of-order signs on the restrooms, and meals served on foam plates with plastic spoons (no blowing money on sporks here). Mostly native diners? Check, plus one nervous-looking Anglo couple. Television tuned to a foreign-language station? Check: Bollywood movie trailers on B4U TV. Proprietors with imperfect command of English? (This is essential, as it implies they learned to cook in the motherland.) Check; this is how Chow, Baby wound up with extra-spicy chicken masala ($6.79) when its tummy craved, and its mouth had requested, mild and creamy chicken korma.

The hypothesis held: Taste of India is deliciously, mouth-tinglingly authentic. The simmered chicken, served with fragrant basmati rice and the wonderful flat bread called chapati, was so tender it could be cut with a plastic spoon. Lambchop’s kahari gosht ($7.29) was perfect cold-weather comfort food: big chunks of spicy stewed lamb, spicy tomatoes, spicy ginger, spicy garlic, and more spices. Chow, Baby will definitely stop in for another mango lassi ($2.49) next time it’s in the area, and maybe get an entrée or two to take home — where the table may be dirty and the floor sticky, but the plates and sporks are real.

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