Eat & Drink

Breaking with Tradition

Chef Mark Fischer bends the rules with Phat Thai.

July 2012

Phat Thai • 2900 E. Second Ave., 303-388-7428, phatthai.com

Three Stars

The Draw

Creative Southeast Asian cuisine that’s designed for sharing and is served in an energetic Cherry Creek space.

The Drawback

If you’ve come for traditional Thai you might be disappointed; execution can be inconsistent.

Don’t Miss

Crisp pork with watermelon, roasted short-rib tacos, spicy mama phat, spicy duck, panang salmon

Price: $$ (Average price per entrée: $15) 

Food: 3 stars

Service: 3 stars

Ambience: 3 1/2 stars

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Ever since chef-owner Mark Fischer opened Phat Thai in Cherry Creek North last December, he’s been trying to convince Denver that his restaurant is not a traditional Thai eatery. He’s frustrated people don’t understand that his restaurant is more of an Impressionist’s version of Thai, one that paints with the traditional flavors of Southeast Asia (lemongrass, galangal root, coconut milk), but where the lines have been blurred for effect. Yes, you’ll find expected dishes like tom yum gung (spicy shrimp and lemongrass soup), kaeng kiew wan (spicy green curry with meat), and pad thai noodles with peanuts and egg (although here, naturally, it’s been renamed phat thai). But, really, can you blame the confused? Fischer’s menu also includes Korean kimchi, Malaysian curry, Indonesian satay, and fried chicken. And the word “Thai” is in the restaurant’s name.

“I know,” Fischer admits. “There is a bit of a disconnect.”

So here’s what you need to know in order to enjoy Phat Thai: It offers a playful and elegant meld of flavors found throughout Southeast Asia, including Burma, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. And although much of the menu may seem familiar, if a bit unpronounceable, many surprises lie in wait.

Fischer’s delectable kaeng massaman pae, for example, is a thick coconut curry laced with aromatic cardamom, crunchy peanuts, bright lemongrass, and smooth hunks of sweet potato, and it’s made with braised Colorado goat instead of the more traditional lamb. The spicy duck—in which rich meat, red bell pepper, Chinese broccoli, and earthy shiitake mushrooms sit inside a blistering pool of Sriracha and hoisin—began as a staff meal and was such a hit it’s become a menu mainstay. You’d never actually find this rendition of spicy duck on a menu anywhere near the South China Sea. (Tip: Order this dish with the sweet, dessertlike coconut rice to tame the heat.) The “Thai” fried chicken is another inspired invention. Dipped in a coating of rice flour, which creates a thin and crispy exterior, the chicken is only Thai in the sense that it relies on flavorings like sweet chiles, rice wine vinegar, and coriander. The preparation is layered and delicious when the chicken is appropriately cooked—but I’ve had pieces that were overdone and dry.

Fischer’s willingness to innovate is reflective of his long history as a chef. He launched the popular, seasonally focused Six89 in Carbondale in 1998—a restaurant that has received widespread national recognition in Bon Appétit and Food & Wine. He followed that in 2003 with the original Phat Thai, also in Carbondale, and added the Pullman in Glenwood Springs two years ago. (Last year, Esquire named the Pullman one of the best new restaurants in the country.) Before that, Fischer cooked at Fog City Diner in San Francisco, the Caribou Club in Aspen, and several restaurants in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

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