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Thursday, Jan. 15, 2004 02:20 pm

Another magic act

Mona Rogers and Narison Auksara of Thailand Cuisine
Photo by Nick Steinkamp

As I've been a life-long fan of the Magic Kitchen restaurant, I have to admit it's been the primary source of my Thai food cravings for as long as I've been a Springfield resident. But I have discovered there are several other options in town that can toss tofu and spice up chicken with coconut milk and curry paste.

One such discovery is Thailand Cuisine, a small restaurant tucked in the strip mall behind the empty building formerly occupied by Chi-Chi's restaurant. The eatery is simple but inviting. A small table where a buffet lunch is served is situated along one wall. The décor consists primarily of framed posters of Thailand scenery and art.

We began our meal with an order of spring rolls. Four very crispy fried cylinders filled with mixed vegetables were served with a sweet plum sauce. The rolls were satisfactory, but the spring roll skins seemed to overpower the ingredients inside the wrapper. Other appetizers include marinated and broiled shrimp or chicken sticks with homemade peanut sauce; fried tofu; fried garlic chicken wings; and goong chips -- shrimp-flavored rice chips with shrimp chili sauce.

Next, we shared the Tom Hum Talay, a hot and sour soup with seafood, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemon grass, kafir leaves, and a touch of chili paste. The broth was flavorful and had just the right amount of spice. The soup was full of shrimp, scallops and slices of squid and a very good introduction to the variety of spices and flavors used in Thai cooking. On my next visit, I would like to try the tom kay talay, with is a hot and sour soup with coconut milk, seafood, galanga, kafir leaves, and lemon grass.

Entrees include options made with seafood, beef, chicken, and pork; curry dishes; noodles; fried rice and vegetarian. We ordered one of the chef's specialties, Bangkok Seafood, which is a combination of shrimp, scallops and squid, sautéed with zucchini, mushrooms, onion, basil, and chili paste. If it sounds similar to the soup we had -- it is. The sauce was light but flavorful and didn't overpower the fresh vegetables and plentiful seafood.

Dishes can be ordered mild to very hot. I chose mild and wished I had opted to turn up the heat a little bit. The dish was flavorful, but could have used more spice. Next time I will know.

My dining companion chose Pad Thai, which is a popular and common Thai dish. It's also one of the most requested dishes at Thailand Cuisine. The dish is a mound of stir-fried rice noodles, fried tofu, ground peanuts, eggs, green onions, and bean sprouts. The sweetness of the peanuts and noodles blended well with the green onions and tofu. We ordered the "medium" hotness dish and it was just the right temperature. We also tried the Phad See-Ew, which was a blend of stir-fired wide rice noodles with broccoli, egg and soy sauce. It had the consistency of the Pad Thai. I have eaten this dish at other Thai restaurants, made with thinner noodles and a drier consistency.

Vegetarian options include stir-fried vegetables in garlic and wine sauce and swimming tofu, which is deep fried soft tofu with steamed assorted vegetables topped with peanut sauce. Beverages offered include Thai iced coffee, which is a sweet blend of coffee and condensed cream. There are no desserts and no smoking.

Wine and beer are available. Try a Singha, a Thai beer with a refreshing light taste that cuts the heat of the spicy food.

The restaurant, which has been open since 1998, is owned by Thailand native Narison Auksara, who does most of the cooking. Narison and manager Mona Rogers moved here from St. Louis to open the restaurant.

Will I end my obsession with the Magic Kitchen? Not on your life. But it's nice to mix it up once in a while.

Thailand Cuisine is located at 3124 Montvale Dr., Springfield 217-787-8122. Hours: lunch buffet: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Mon., Wed., Fri.; noon-2:30 p.m. Sat. and Sun. Dinner served 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon., Wed., Thurs. and Sun.; 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Fri. and 2:30-10 p.m. Sat. Closed Tuesdays. Carry-out available.

Word power

Thai cuisine uses a unique blend of flavors that stimulates all of the palate's principal tastes: hot (chilies), sweet (fruits, sweet peppers, sugar), sour (rice vinegar, lime juice, tamarind), and salty (soy sauce, fish oil).

Thailand Cuisine says its dishes are prepared to excite the olfactory senses as well with the aroma of basil, coriander, lime leaf, garlic, lemon grass, ginger, cumin, turmeric, coconut and galangal root -- in different variations of combinations, creating lusty flavors.

Listed below are a few important Thai words to know when ordering from the menu:

Gai -- chicken

Goong -- shrimp

Nua -- beef

Moo -- pork

Pla -- fish

Geang -- curry

See-ew --soy sauce

Tom -- soup

Phad -- stir fry

Prik -- chili

Kow -- rice

Puk -- vegetable

Phed muk -- very hot

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