Friday was one of those gloomy days when it didn’t stop raining and all I wanted to do was stay in bed with a book and a cup of tea. I had to go to work, though, so I spent half my day hiding in my office with a novel and a cup of tea.
After work, I went to try Fork & Stix. I read about it recently in a top 40 restaurant list that a local food publication puts out. A reviewer said that it’s the place where St. Louis chefs go to eat on their days off. That was enough endorsement for me.
Fork & Stix is the kind of place that survives on reputation and word of mouth. I know this because it’s in the middle of nowhere and could very easily go unnoticed. It’s located at the dead end of an alley and the only street parking is a couple spots outside the restaurant. I got there early so I managed to snag one of the spots.
I expected the restaurant to be more crowded when I walked in, but at 5:30 p.m., it was mostly walk-ins picking up to-go orders. The waitress seated me against the wall at a two-person table that faced out over the restaurant. I was happy to have a panoramic view. I liked the chalk mural against the opposite wall.
No more than 10 minutes after I sat down, the restaurant became packed. It was like watching dominoes fall over. One person came through the door, then another. Soon I had two (presumably married) couples sitting on either side of me. One couple was silent and the other couple wouldn’t stop talking.
I ordered the chicken khao soi because I read in the reviews that it was a house specialty. Also, I needed some egg soup. I knew that it would warm me and make me forget about the nasty weather. I hoped that maybe it would also make me forget about the semi-shitty week I’d just had.
The waitress brought the soup over to my table. I could see steam rising off the top. The top was garnished with a delicate nest of fried egg noodles, bright green, fragrant cilantro, and a wedge of lime. I unwrapped some chopsticks and squeezed the lime over the broth as an afterthought. Then, I spiraled some noodles around the chopsticks and took a first bite.
It sounds like an exaggeration to say that I blacked out after taking that first bite, but I did. I couldn’t believe how good it was. The broth was spicy and aromatic, the noodles were soft and chewy, the chicken was tender, and the egg noodles stayed crispy even after I submerged them in soup. It was a confluence of flavors and texture that I’ll never forget.
There are a lot of times when I eat *pretty good* food and I’m appreciative. But in the case of this khao soi, I knew that what I was eating was excellent. I savored every bite. I tilted the bowl sideways to get the last bit of broth out. It was then that I realized that both couples were looking at me out of the corners of their eyes.
I felt like I needed to explain myself, so I said, “that was SO good.” “It looked like it,” the more talkative woman on the right said. The woman on the left who barely talked asked me what it was. I explained the soup and told both couples that they should order it.
The woman on the left looked familiar but I couldn’t place her. We kept talking and she and her husband told me that they were from a small town outside of St. Louis. They gave me recommendations of where to eat and drink there.
When I got up to leave, I said to them without thinking, “maybe I’ll see you around.” “Yes,” the woman said, smiling. “You never know.”
Dining at khao soi confirmed what I already knew, which is that excellent food has the power to bring people together. It can also make you feel really, really good inside, and not in the eat-your-feelings type of way. It’s reassuring and affirming like a best friend. It doesn’t ask questions and it doesn’t make demands. It asks you, quite simply, to enjoy.