International Death Match

Malee Thai & Vietnamese

Next we journeyed into the wondrous realm of the noodle -- a fiery, Thai-style chow fun with broccoli, soy-based black sauce, hot chilies, and basil vs. Vietnam's chilled vermicelli noodles, mint, cucumber, crushed peanut, cilantro, and deep-fried pork rolls. Here, Vietnamese subtlety trumped Thai exuberance. In fact, as we sampled our final Vietnamese entree -- immeasurably savory barbecued pork marinated with lemongrass and black sauce -- it looked like they were going to be shedding tears in Bangkok.

But then came our final Thai entree, evil jungle -- by far the most appropriately named dish I've ever come across. Chloe took the first bite. She stared at me for a second, her eyes widened, and then, as the evil jungle worked its magic, she whipped a handkerchief from her pocket to mop the beads of sweat suddenly streaming down her forehead. At first taste, I wasn't sure what the commotion was about, since this so-called evil jungle appeared to be a mildly spicy mix of ground beef, red and green bell peppers, onions, and basil. I saw no chilies, but Lord knows they were in there: As the heat spread from my gullet though every cell in my body I realized I'd just swallowed the culinary equivalent of an atomic bomb. It was better than any drug, or at least any I've tried, and all at once I noticed three things: 1) The Muzak sounded different, containing vaguely Arabic riffs, 2) I, too, was pouring sweat, and 3) we had a 3-3 deadlock, to be settled over dessert.

For the tie-breaking round we sampled a rich Vietnamese tapioca with coconut milk and banana followed by Thai-style mango over sticky rice, then began our final deliberations. Should the sultry, sweet pearls of tapioca earn Vietnam ultimate victory? Or should the juicy, luscious mango paired with creamy rice paste assure Thai bragging rights? And did my skin really smell like evil jungle, or was I hallucinating? I asked Chloe to give me a sniff, but she wasn't about to go there. Finally she declared the tapioca her favorite, while I preferred the mango. After giving the matter some thought, I decided there was only one way to break the tie.


345-9001. Open every day for lunch from noon to 3 p.m. and for dinner from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Reservations accepted. Not wheelchair accessible. Parking: free at Travelodge, otherwise difficult. Muni: 30, 42, 47, 49. Noise level: low to moderate.

Vietnamese/Thai pupu platter $7.95
Chicken satay $6.75
Larb $6.95
Po tak $9.95
Barbecued pork $9.95
Evil jungle $8.95
Mango with sticky rice $9.95

1450 Lombard (at Franklin)

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Two days later, my skin still smelled like evil jungle -- the gift that keeps on giving. Congratulations to the good people of Thailand.

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