The brief visit of my old friend Adam, who normally lives on a different continent, was a good opportunity to meet up in the boondocks…I mean, uh, Fairfax County. I picked him up and we made our way to Essan on Route 123, and on the way I received a short history of the Isan ethnic group of Thailand, because that’s the kind of person Adam is.
Since Essan specializes in Northern Thai cuisine, I was looking forward to some of my favorites, specifically the ridiculously tasty pork curry we ate at Baan Thai, and that I have tried repeatedly to replicate at home, with mixed results. Alas, no dice. But we did get the Chiangmai sausage, the Yum Kai Zapp, and Pla Koong. “Medium spicy okay?” No, it most certainly is NOT. I asked her to make things very spicy. Also, I ordered the blue pea iced tea for good measure, because when the waitress mentioned that it’s literally blue, I had to see for myself.
She was obviously not lying. It was slightly honeyed and very refreshing with a squeeze of lime.
The Pla Koong shrimp came out first. The shrimp themselves were cooked perfectly and the scallions and ginger were fresh and fragrant, but I would not in any way call this spicy. Not even “medium spicy.” The tail-on shrimp also made the dish awkward to eat.
The sausage was delicious, and would have made a reasonably-sized appetizer. It was mildly spicy, meaty, and soft. It was recommended that we eat it with the fried ginger and peanuts. I was pleasantly surprised here.
The Yum Kai Zapp chicken had a really crispy cornmeal-y crust and tasty scallions and red onions. It was a huge dish, too. The dark meat chicken was very rich and tender. Still not spicy despite a contradictory menu description, but I’ll just shrug and blame it on our whiteness (even though Adam did thank the waitress IN THAI, because again, that’s just the kind of person he is).
Price: $15 per person.
Bottom line: For sure, Essan is different than your typical Thai restaurant and different than other Northern Thai restaurants that exist in the area. It’s not my favorite but I ain’t mad either.