Allergies have me in a drowsy stupor lately, and no amount of sugar or coffee can keep me alert enough to seem interested in my co-workers idle conversations. I really need something piquant to jolt myself back to awareness.
Thats where Muang Lao Cuisine comes in, a Fort Worth restaurant that serves both Thai and Laotian dishes.
This is my first experience with Laotian food, but the cuisine is very similar to Thai. The two countries share a border, after all.
The Laotian dishes are few at Muang, but they are also the most requested (especially for take-out). Dishes like the papaya salad ($7) with lime, pepper and garlic; and the larb salad ($10) with minced beef, chicken and pork in lime, fly out the door.
But the Lao beef jerky ($6) and Lao sausage ($6) are the two bestsellers.
The jerky, served with green onions, is a staple in Laotian households. Its thicker than traditional jerky and not as chewy. It has a crispy exterior and a semi-tender inside, again, unlike traditional jerky.
The Lao sausage looks more natural than the sausage were used to seeing its ingredients very discernible. It has a strong and distinct herbal flavor, thanks to a combination of dill, cilantro and other herbs a unique flavor that perks you right up.
On the Thai side, we went with the classics: fried pot stickers ($7), basil fried rice ($10), pad Thai ($10) and kow poon nam seen (beef noodle soup, $10).
The pot stickers are a crispy starter, served with a snappy garlic soy sauce that whets the senses.
Basil fried rice, with no shortage of basil, is a large, moist portion of rice with crunchy peppers, yellow onions and plenty of meat (we chose chicken). Ordered at level 1 spicy (5 being the highest), it was hot enough to keep my eyelids at attention.
And we loved the chili-sweet simplicity of the pad Thai, with its soft noodles, plentiful chicken, bean sprouts, onions, eggs and cubes of tofu.
But the beef noodle soup was the ultimate culmination of everything we tried. Its a large serving of tender meat (beef) and crunchy vegetables, as in the basil fried rice; a nice balance of sweet and spicy, like in the pad Thai; cabbage and mint leaves; and a flavorful, savory broth that pleasantly lingers on the roof of your mouth after each spoonful.
By the time we got to the soup, I was already on the path to alertness; but just to make sure, some of the spicy broth ended up in my eye while I was intensely slurping some noodles. Totally an accident, but it totally did the trick.