Chao Thai

Gut Instinct: Feeding the Feminine Mystique



On a recent bar-going Saturday night, I combated a fedora-clad pimp in pool, drank liquor strong enough to strip me of my consonants and conscious thought and watched, dumbfounded, as the pimp’s moneymaker—a fireplug who sausaged her torpedo bosoms and dump-truck derriere into a pleather one-piece the color of the devil—commandeered the pool table for an impromptu ta-ta-shaking session.

Nonetheless, fine reader, today’s word dump isn’t a cautionary tale about angering a drunken pimp and his large lass. It’s about treating your sweetheart right.

Don’t expect Valentine’s Day advice. While you Lotharios and lovers dine on overpriced prix fixes, I’ll be toiling at my freelance copyediting gig, eating free greasy pizza and spelling Hayden Panettiere’s name. Romance? Sweet jellybeans: A year’s worth of my mistakes can’t be absolved with one candlelit eve of chocolate and red, red wine.

To keep my boyfriend rating in the black, I spend all year treating my sweetie to top-notch eats. It’s either that or enthusiastic oral sex, and sad to say, I’m better at uncovering spongy, cheesy tamales than diving beneath the covers.

Sating my better half with better food is not as easy as A-B-C. My idea of fantastic grub is street food sold for less than two bucks, preferably pulled from a deep fryer floating with charred black nubs that are likely winged insects.

“You hungry?” I asked my gal on a recent weeknight. We were sipping rarefied reds and Rieslings at Solex (103 First Ave. betw. 6th & 7th Sts, 212-777-6677), a sleek wood room with a curvaceous ceiling and seats tall enough to require stools.

Her pupils dilated. Saliva escaped from her pucker.

“I take that as a yes,” I said. We settled our tab and I made my cursory complaint: Why do bars charge tax on drinks? Do they expect you to drop dollar bills and a riot of jangling change? Recently, there’s been an uptick in this insidious nickel-and-diming, at saloons and haughty wine bars alike. “It’s despicable—”

“Honey, I’m hungry,” my girlfriend said, curtailing my spiel.

We quick-stepped down First Avenue to the corner of East Fourth Street, where I made an earlier discovery: a sandwich shack named Jennifer Cafe that, between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m., transforms into a makeshift taqueria. Tacos—spanning the pork spectrum—shared menu acreage with tortas and empanadas. Nothing was more than $6. It was cheap-bastard heaven. For me.

“Um, we’re going to eat on the street corner? Again?”

Yes, yes, a million times yes!

“No.” She looked up the sky, dark and ominous. Several drops obliged her ire by plopping onto the sidewalk.

“Just a snack?”

“Then dinner?”



The cheese empanada was filled with enough gooey glory to attract a mice battalion, while my chicken empanada (both $1.25 each) was ropy and dry, saved by a liberal application of zingy green salsa. My fatty spicy-pork tacos—a steal at three for $5—were freshly griddle-prepared by a diminutive, middle-aged man with a luxurious mane I pray is mine at age 40.

“Standing on the corner makes them taste better,” I told my girlfriend, my mouth full of meat, as a cab honked past.

“They’re…good,” she said, grudgingly. “Now can we sit down somewhere and have dinner?”

Here’s where I become caring. Knowing the lady friend loves scorching food, we trekked to Elmhurst, Queens’ Chao Thai (85-03 Whitney Avenue betw. Broadway & Macnish St., 718-424-4999). It’s a narrow hallway with a handful of tables and pink stuffed monkeys. Romantic? Hardly. But Chao’s BYOB, so our romance was found within a bottle.

I retrieved my quart of Regia Extra—a crisp, sweet lager from El Salvador, which ably slices through spiciness. A skinny waitress cracked the bottle cap.

“You shouldn’t have,” my girlfriend said, toasting with $2.50 beer.

I know, I know: I’m too good to her. But not half as good as our pond of green curry packed with eggplant and tofu chunks, so hot our sinuses emptied in appreciation. Or slippery broad noodles containing an extended family of tender shrimp. Still, our hearts beat strongest for the vegetarian duck (soft, thick matchsticks of wheat gluten) and still-crisp green beans slicked with a fiery, not cloying, chili-basil sauce.

“I’m so glad you took me here,” she said, forking up some eggplant.

“Do you mean it?” I asked.

“As you long as you don’t eat all the shrimp,” she said, as we refilled our glasses and drank with as much passion and dignity as beer can permit.