By Joe Duffy, Photos by 24/7Photography, LLC
When I moved to Roswell more than 16 years ago, my only grievance was the lack of first-rate restaurant selections. Fast forward to about a half-dozen years bygone, at any given point on the calendar, there are more dandy restaurants less than six or so months old than there were viable alternatives in total during those “Bloomin’ Onion Acres” Dark Ages.
Among the uppermost dining rooms in the jam-packed current freshman class is M Thai Street food. Better known as “Chef Lisa,” mega-talented chef/owner Sripapa Oyanontaruk has an impressive resume having toiled in the kitchens of some of the best intown and suburban restaurants including Tamarind Seed, Nahm Thai Cuisine, Satay House, and Kokai Thai Bistro.
The single mother of three moved to the US from Thailand in her twenties in search of a better life. She is certainly improving lives of others at lunch and dinner time with her newest “baby” in downtown Alpharetta.
I won’t feign that I’ve roamed the streets of Bangkok. Perhaps that’s why both the interior of the restaurant and the menu itself are a bit more upscale than I’d expect from a restaurant with “street food” in its moniker. However, while gathering details via a Facebook conversation, I was assured, “you can easily find 90-percent of the food on the menu on streets in Bangkok.”
When a restaurant recognizes an item or two as “house specialties” or anything comparable, my decision on what to order has been made for me. As an appetizer, Jeeb “grandma style” shrimp and chicken dumplings were characterized as “award winning.” If one is a fan of Chinese dim sum, you will love these as the Thai version does trace its roots to the Chinese delicacy. Similar to shamai, with the caveat that chicken replaces pork in Chef Lisa’s creation, these meat wontons are categorically remarkable. My shrimp-loving daughter and I contested it out to devour our fair share.
The only other item on the menu with the distinction of “award winning” is Nua Masaman (usually with two m’s but only one on the menu) AKA the beef short rib masaman. What really stood out with this plating was the diverse convergence of flavors. Masaman curry generally incorporates spices that are uncommon in other Thai curries with more traditional ones such as coriander, cumin seed, cardamom, tamarind… well you get the point. That’s a lot of flavor packed into a curry.
Still, the short rib, diced potatoes, avocado, and cashew nuts maintain their unique flavors in the strong and flavorful sauce. Clearly Chef Lisa has learned a trick or two in 30-plus years working in the trade.
With the advent of social media, it’s not uncommon to see a foodie source ask what the best combination of two ingredients is. My rejoinder is that it’s curry and coconut milk. Anticipatedly, I adored M’s beef panang coconut milk curry. I’ve gulped my share of panang curry infusions heretofore, but as with everything else Chef Lisa generates, this one is among the elite.
A couple of decades ago, I conceived the appellation of “grubber” to describe my subculture of food snobbery. I simply desire splendid food. Fancy or chic interiors are a nice bonus, but completely irrelevant unless the food is grand. I’m here to eat, not to “dine.”
Good presentation? Gosh, I don’t want to look at my dish, I want to dive in head first. Yet even I am impressed with Chef Lisa’s artistry. Her courses look oh so purty that I almost don’t want to eat them. Yeah right. Still, they are picturesque, yet taste much better than they look in every instance I’ve sampled.
Even the simplest menu items excel. There was no way I was going to let my daughter have shrimp fried rice without pilfering some. Not since long-gone Xian China Bistro has this area had a version belonging in the same discussion as M Thai Street Food’s.
I was assured the grub is as good as any on the streets of Thailand. “Many of our customers who have been to Bangkok guarantee that.” That was the most credible and least surprising claim I’ve heard in a long time. ❍