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Spin Modern Thai Cuisine delivers fresh bold flavors from an unexpected location

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com
Its location might be out of the way for some people, but the dishes at Spin make it well worth the drive up U.S. 183.

He might not have the newfound celebrity, thousands of Twitter followers or James Beard Award that his East Side King co-founder Paul Qui has, but Ek Timrerk can still cook like a superstar.

After helping his sister, Titaya, open her wildly successful, eponymous restaurant on North Lamar Boulevard, Timrerk worked for three years at Uchi. The Thai chef and fellow executive chef and Uchiko veteran Thai Changthong have teamed to deliver robust, well-executed dishes in an unexpected location.

Hidden around the corner from a Super Target near Lakeline Mall, Spin Modern Thai Cuisine shines from a clean, modern space with stained concrete floors. Wood tables and chairs and a dark taupe and sea foam color scheme make for a comforting yet cool ambience.

We had our first lunch at Spin seated at the counter bar overlooking the open kitchen and started with five deep fried chicken wings ($5), glistening with oil and shimmering with a spicy sweetness from orange oil and red wine chili vinaigrette. The meat pulled without fight from the bone, with a subtle amount of fat clinging to the crackle of auburn skin.

Ramenlicious ($8.85) might surprise those familiar solely with Japanese-style ramen. There is no bowl of broth soaking the nest of ingredients in this Thai-style ramen. A gentle tangle of wheat noodles burnished with soy and honey-dashi rice wine vinegar supports supple pink shrimp and petals of fish cakes, adorned with serpentine fuchsia squiggles. Thin bean sprouts and peanuts give crunch to the web of flavors that sits above a trove of tangy pickled mustard greens at the bottom of a bowl that presents layers of discovery.

Kao soi ($8.50) comes alive when you bring all the ingredients from their respective corners into the middle of the ring. Salty (peanut), sweet (a full-bodied green coconut curry) and tart (pickled vegetables) flavors find expression in front of the vocal support of a bold green coconut curry, with massive basil leaves, like something from a Maurice Sendak book, fanning the flames. Braised chicken requires grappling meat from bone, but the tender meat is well worth the dexterous effort.

The appetizers on the dinner menu are identical to those at lunch, with the exception of the dinner menu's juicy moo ping ($6), four pork skewers marinated in coconut milk and teasing with a hint of fat. Crispy taro and corn fritter strips ($5) crisscross in golden latticework, the starch of the vegetables serving simply as a backbone for the delicate tempura. The sweet chili sauce is a little too much of the former, but crushed toasted peanuts help balance the dish.

Grilled baby octopus dishes appear at restaurants all over town, and I can't remember having a better one in Austin than the one at Spin ($12). This was the dish, with its tiny ringlets of red Thai chiles, that made my dining guest and I look at each other in disbelief and wonder who, exactly, was responsible for the food at this place.

Lightly charred but betraying none of the rubbery texture of the oft-overcooked dish, the baby octopus came surrounded by picturesque confetti of cherry tomatoes and dressed with a chile lime sauce. A bell pepper puree that looked like a quail egg lent the dish impressive heat, cooled slightly by fresh, bitter celery leaf. My companion asked our server for the kitchen to make him the hottest sauce possible, and the resulting mixture of habanero, Sriracha and red chiles, whipped together in short order, brought welcomed tears.

The pan-seared duck breast ($15) arrived in a bowl that resembled a traditional French onion soup crock. Large chunks of the thin-sliced bird settled to the bottom of a bubbling red pineapple curry, brightly earthy with lemon grass. Beware the bobbing baubles of grapes. Once pierced, they release a burst of juicy fury like dangerous, fruity water balloons.

Spin delivers ample portion sizes with each dish, but the mackerel in the saba mi krob ($15) seriously impresses. The long, plump oily fish, probably close to three-fourths of a pound, sits atop a soy sauce that tastes roasted and whispers hints of smoke and maple, piqued by the serranos and garlic-ginger sauce that cover the fish.

Our attentive servers, obviously proud of the dishes they delivered, had little trouble answering our questions and readily offered suggestions at each meal without imposing.

Places like Asia Café near Spicewood Springs Road and Azul Tequila in South Austin stand testament to the fact that strip malls can play host to some surprisingly good food. Spin proves that such out-of-the-way places can serve great food.

With lines often spilling out of the front door at Titaya's, a case could be made that it is the most popular Thai restaurant in Austin. But big brother, Ek, and his partners may have something to say about that.

Contact Matthew Odam at 912-5986

Spin Modern Thai Cuisine