Pilgrimage to Mekkala
Henri is ecstatic over new Thai restaurant on the edge of town
Chico, CA 95973
While Henri frequently laments Chico’s dearth of ethnic eateries, particularly compared to cities in which he has dined promiscuously—notably, of course, New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco—he realizes that it is one of the small prices one pays for the relative serenity of life in un petit village.
On the other hand, even our own dear little hamlet has begun to boast an increasingly impressive list of ethnic restaurants—sushi, Indian, Chinese, Mexican.
And then there are the Thai restaurants! Sacrebleu! Henri has been more than impressed with each one, as regular readers will recall—with Sophia’s, Chada, Thai Basil and Cocodine. Colette and I make frequent visits, especially for lunch specials.
So, although we were thrilled to learn of a new Thai restaurant opening in town, we also knew that the bar already was set pretty high.
Once again, though, we were duly impressed. In fact, Mekkala (pronounced “me-ka-LAH"), which opened three months ago in La Dolce Piazza, the little complex at the corner of Cohasset and Lassen, might be the best yet. The prices are reasonable, the service friendly and prompt, and the food absolutely delicious, the vegetables’ and herbs’ freshness owing in part to the weekly trip the owners take to their farm in Fresno to harvest lemon grass, basil, eggplant and various peppers.
We stopped in for lunch several weeks ago, greeted first by a 4-foot-tall, carved wooden, Southeast Asian woman in gorgeous ceremonial gold dress. We learned later, from our waitress—and a description on the menu—that this was Mekkala herself, the born-of-the-sea, Aphrodite-like Thai goddess of thunder and lightning.
Mekkala’s menu includes the classic dishes: pad Thai, curries (red, yellow, green, seafood and Panang), stir-fries (vegetables, tofu), eggplant and cashew and ginger chicken. Most dinner entrees run $8-$10, though the chu-chee salmon (deep fried and served with chutney) is $12 and the curried seafood is $13.
Lunch specials are $6-$8. All entrees and specials include a cup of chicken-rice soup or a small green salad, as well as a bowl of brown or white rice. Desserts include fried banana with ice cream and sticky rice with mango (both $5). Thai iced tea and coffee are $3. Bertagna wines (Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio) by the glass are $5; bottled beer (including the Thai selections, Singha and Chang) is $4.
We started with the Mekkala sampler appetizer: fried tofu, imperial rolls, imperial shrimp and chicken satay, along with three sauces—peanut, sweet-chili and diced cucumbers and red onions in rice-wine vinegar ($12). The rolls, stuffed with cabbage, mushrooms and noodles, were especially good, even better dipped into the chili sauce.
I decided to try the red curry, and Colette ordered the Panang curry. I had the soup, Colette the salad, which she liked very much, especially the minty dressing and cucumbers. The soup was OK, a bit bland—with soft rice and some small pieces of chicken—but was exponentially better when I added a spoonful of the chili sauce.
The curries were absolutely delicious: my red a stew of perfectly crunchy eggplant, green beans, bell peppers, carrots, green onions, zucchini and whole basil leaves; Colette’s with the same vegetables but with the Panang sauce (cream, lime and basil) mixed in.
Three days later we returned for dinner, this time with Colette’s friend Paulette, and tried the sweet and sour chicken soup, the chicken gra prao (the same vegetables, with a partially ground chicken in a basil reduction), green curry and ginger chicken. All were very good. We’ve been back four times since and agree that the food and overall dining experience are exceptional, the restaurant a wonderful addition to Chico’s increasingly international dining options.
Now if someone would just open a decent French bistro, where Henri would not feel so out of place in his beret and espadrilles.
Mekkala’s spiciness level is just a bit above those of the other Thai restaurants in the area. While some, including Henri, like it hot, even “medium” is very spicy at Mekkala. You might want to start with “mild-plus.”