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.
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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