ST. CHARLES – Located in a stripmall across the street from Charlestowne Mall, and squeezed between a nail salon and mattress store, sits an unassuming Thai-food restaurant called VinoThai. I’ve driven by it countless times on my way to the nearby Target or the Chipotle located a few doors down. I also made the mistake of assuming the restaurant solely operated as a takeout and delivery joint; not a suitable stop for a sit-down meal ... quite the contrary.
As we entered the intimate dining room, we were immediately greeted at the door by a friendly waitress who sat us at a corner table for two near the floor-to-ceiling windows.
“This place is pretty classy,” I whispered under my breath to my dining companion, who agreed. Just in time for the weekday lunch rush, the corporate crowd took up most of the seats within the restaurant.
Rich browns from the furniture, ceiling fans and wall art created a stark contrast against the white table cloths, and cream-colored walls. Concerning the restaurant’s inner decor, less is definitely more. My eyes were immediately drawn to a pair of beautiful mocha-hued elephant statues on the opposite wall as we walked to our table.
VinoThai’s website states that the restaurant has been around since 1990, but it’s inner furnishings looked like new.
A well-equipped bar fit with granite countertops, a rustic wine-glass rack, and a few coffee-colored stools set up at the back of the room made me want to order an exotic cocktail, an imported beer ($4.50/$8.50) or a chic martini ($7). It may have already been past five o’clock in Thailand, but in St. Charles, I still had the better part of a work day to get through.
Light classical music faintly filled the room as I scanned the menu.
“Are you ready to order?” the waitress asked as she delivered our drinks – not a chic martini or Mai Tai ($7.95) but a Coca-Cola and an ice water.
The sheer volume of options adorning the menu made me want to channel the dining-style of Anthony Bourdain in his food-centric travel show, “No Reservations,” where overindulgence is key; and ordering everything on the menu is standard.
But, with only an hour at our disposal and a slight budget to adhere to, we decided to go the less gluttonous route.
We started with the Appetizer for Two ($8.95) for an even sampling of items. The dish came with two Spring Rolls, Crab Rangoons, Egg Rolls and Golden Triangles (a mixture of chicken, peanut and daikon deep fried and shaped like a triangle.)
Other appetizer options included Shumai or shrimp dumplings ($5.95), Soft Shell Crab ($6.95), Pot stickers ($5.95), Fried Sweet Potato ($6.95) and Coconut Shrimp ($6.95).
The Spring Rolls tasted fresh and complemented the sweetness of the other items on the plate. The Crab Rangoon had a flaky crust that seemingly dissolved in my mouth, and teamed well with the creamy filling and thick and flavorful dipping sauce. The Golden Triangle, with its intricate textured blend of sweetness and saltiness elicited a “wow” after I bit into it. Echoing my thoughts exactly, my dining companion said, “I’m coming back for this.”
Once we finished our appetizers, our main course arrived within minutes.
“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress asked, setting down a bowl of Yellow Curry with beef, chunks of potato, white onions and yellow curry paste in coconut milk with a side of white rice. As a self-proclaimed curry buff, ironically, my delicate palette can’t handle a lot of spice, which Thai food usually has in spades. The yellow curry is only mildly spiced, but still left me with enough of a kick to keep me sniffling throughout the meal.
However, VinoThai can cater its curries to your tolerance for spice, ranging from “no hot to extra hot.”
My dining companion ordered the standard, and probably most-ordered Thai dish among the American population: Pad Thai. Crushed peanut added a bit of crunch while hunks of beef, rice noodles, eggs, tofu and onion soaked up the homemade sweet and sour tamarind sauce, creating a balanced blend of flavors – an element in Thai cuisine that chefs aim to perfect.
VinoThai also offers an assortment of different soups to warm up the belly before the real eating commences. We sampled a cup of the soup of the day, a chicken and rice, and albeit its luke-warm temperature, it was light and brothy; a good way to start off a well-balance Thai meal.
Another savory soups include the famous Tom Yum Soup ($3.95/$7.95), a hot & sour soup with lemon grass broth, lime leaves, galanga, sweet chili paste, lime juice, onion, cilantro and mushroom.
VinoThai’s specialty dishes include the Crazy Noodle ($8.95), stir-fried noodles with egg, broccoli, baby corn, bean sprout, fresh basil, jalapeno and bell pepper; the Chicken Curry Fried Rice ($8.95); and the Golden Chicken ($9.95), a marinated chicken stir-fry with Thai herbs, carrot, onion, and peppers.
Knowing I couldn’t pull a Bourdain on this trip to VinoThai, and order to my heart’s content, instead, I made a mental note of what my next visit will entail: Mus Sa Mun Curry ($10.95) a curry dish I’ve never tried but recently learned was declared no. 1 on CNN’s “50 most delicious food in the world” in 2011.
And, I don’t think I’ll be able to pass up on a tiki drink the next time around.
•The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits different restaurants during the month and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.
Address: 3825 E. Main St., St. Charles
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Satur- day; and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays
Availability: Dine in and carry out