AppeThai Brings Nuanced, Gorgeous Thai to the North Shore
Think about what sets your favorite Thai restaurant apart from all the others, and thoughtful plating probably doesn’t come to mind. That’s because many—certainly not all, but many—Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants in Milwaukee seem to believe that a large pile of food will make up for a lack in presentation. And while the flavor of the food is always paramount, thoughtful plate composition and ingredient preparation will always elevate a meal one step higher.
3900 W. Brown Deer Road, Suite 110
Price Range: $$
Handicapped access: Yes
CC, FB, GF, RS
Hours: M-F 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4:30-9 p.m.; Sa 4:30-9 p.m.
It’s this thoughtfulness that makes eating at AppeThai such a treat, especially when coupled with superbly balanced flavors, something Thai cuisine is well known for but few restaurants actually happen to achieve. Ever popular pad Thai ($9-$14), which is often served in a sickly sweet, bland sauce, is a joy here: tangy from tamarind, savory from pungent fish sauce and only just enough sweetness from palm sugar. Chiles add a depth of flavor and, yes, heat too. This is one of the few Thai restaurants where ordering a dish “hot” will actually leave you sweating.
Appetizers are served on a plate or bowl lined with a strip of banana leaf to add interest to a plate that would otherwise look rather boring. Pot stickers ($8) encapsulate seasoned ground pork in a thick, slightly chewy dumpling skin. They arrive pan fried with a deep crust on one side and a sesame-ginger soy sauce. You may want to browse the salad section of the menu for appetizer options as well, which are also served on a banana leaf garnish. Thai salads rarely contain lettuce, instead consisting of other vegetables, fresh herbs and often lots of meat. Spicy charred pork salad ($8) is of the meat-heavy variety, with lean pork loin grilled and sliced, then combined with slivered tomato, red onion, cucumber, cilantro, mint and a garlic and lime dressing. It’s amazing how refreshing a salad made primarily of grilled meat can be. Make it into a meal with a side of sticky rice.
Some dishes are only offered at lunch and make finding the time to eat lunch out worth it. Special rice with deep-fried chicken ($9.50) is reminiscent of a famous Chinese dish called Hainanese chicken. Chicken is cooked in water, creating a broth with which rice is cooked; then the dish is served with all three components. In AppeThai’s version, the chicken is deep fried, sliced and arranged carefully over the rice, with clear soup, cucumbers and a chile sauce for dipping. The crisp breading stays fully adhered to the tender chicken slices and the rice was fragrant with toasted garlic and ginger. Also only available at lunch: stir-fried ground chicken ($10) with string beans, chili, garlic and Thai basil, topped with a crispy fried egg. The spices and basil lend a floral note to the stir fry and the egg yolk is a delight running over the jasmine rice.
Dinner entrées include some dishes that are more Thai-inspired than traditional Thai, like grilled salmon ($19). Salmon is marinated with dark soy and herbs, then grilled and topped with a red wine and soy glaze and served with steamed vegetables. It looks more like a plate you’d get at a French restaurant than a Thai place, but the flavors are decidedly Asian. Two super hot dishes are also available at dinner under a section called “We Dare You!” One called Pad Ped Moo Pah ($20) combines wild boar with chili paste and Thai herbs in a stir fry; the other, Pad Cha Talay ($22), consists of shrimp, squid and clams with bamboo shoots, onions, bell peppers and Thai herbs. Considering I’ve tried their “hot” version of dishes, I’d suggest proceeding with caution unless you have a glass of creamy, sweet Thai iced tea within arm’s reach.