Eat & Drink

Breaking with Tradition

Chef Mark Fischer bends the rules with Phat Thai.

July 2012

His lengthy experience creates an easy confidence that’s refreshing. Fischer fully understands the idiosyncrasies of taste, and at Phat Thai he encourages diners to make adjustments by including a set of condiments on each table: chiles to dial up the heat; sugar to tame it; rice wine vinegar for a dash of sour; and nam pla prik, a mixture of chiles and fish sauce that enhances the flavor of most any dish. I’m repeatedly irked by chefs so certain their tastes are the right tastes that they refuse to put salt and pepper on the table. At Phat Thai, I’m given the option, the tools, and the permission to experiment. It would be helpful, however, if the servers took the time to explain how to use the flavorings. Over the course of three visits, the array of condiments was described just once.

The balance of salty, sweet, hot, and sour is essential to Southeast Asian cuisine, and dishes here reflect that philosophy. The crisp pork with watermelon appetizer pairs jeweled pink cubes of watermelon with rich squares of pork and tops both with tangy pickled melon rinds. The sweet fruit quiets the sour rind, and both are balanced by the pleasing richness of the meat. In the spicy mama phat, zesty crumbles of ground pork are tossed with soft ramen noodles, threads of crunchy cabbage, and fragrant mint leaves to create a satisfying hot-cool, soft-crunchy, yin-yang of taste and texture.

Fischer’s food is designed to be shared, meaning that even if one single item isn’t particularly balanced, the overall mix of dishes on the table will be. To facilitate sharing, servers bring a stack of clean plates to the table. But too often not enough plates are proffered, and they’re not replenished frequently enough.

Not every item on the menu succeeds—not because of a design flaw, but rather because of a lack of choreography in the kitchen. The five-spice sticky pork ribs were smothered by an unnecessarily thick blanket of hoisin. The phat cashew beef stir-fry was overwhelmed by salty soy. The chicken satay itself was tender and perfectly cooked, but the bland peanut sauce and tasteless cucumber salad on the side reduced the appeal the same way a bad hairstyle can mar a beautiful face.

Although the menu contains a few misses, the overall effect is still pleasing, due in no small part to the space itself. Walls of windows infuse the restaurant with light, energy, and weather permitting, soft summer breezes. Subtle industrial touches—open duct work, concrete flooring—lend a modern feel that’s comfortably offset by wooden tables and bold bursts of yellow and saffron on the walls. Plus, while you feel the energy of people around you, you won’t compete with them to be heard.

Anchoring the newly refurbished Fillmore Street Plaza, Phat Thai injects much-needed vigor into Cherry Creek North’s dining scene. If you can release your preconceptions of what this restaurant is supposed to be (not traditional Thai) and allow yourself to experiment (use the condiments), you’ll find a place—and many dishes—worth discovering again and again.