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phat thai

Ryan Graff

Mark Fischer balances things. He balances responsibilities between his new restaurant, phat thai, and his old, 689.He balances good and bad criticism from his customers and tempers it with his common sense. Most important, though, Fischer balances the unique tastes in Thai cuisine to make great dishes. “All the things here are kind of in your face and robust,” Fischer said on a recent afternoon as he sat at the end of phat thai’s bar looking on to Carbondale’s Main Street. Thai food combines spicy, sour, salty and sweet tastes, Fischer said. It relies heavily on strongly flavored foods like lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chilies. Fischer learned to balance the heat of Thai chilies with gentler flavors – not through travels to Thailand or under the watchful eye of a mentor, but through a book, “Thai Food,” by David Thompson. “Thai Food” presents very traditional recipes, and an almost encyclopedic look at Thai cooking, Fischer said. The book played a large part in how Fischer developed phat thai’s menu.”We start with authentic recipes and go from there,” he said. But he added, “the cool thing about Thai cooking is that it’s not all that rigid.”The authenticity of his recipes and the deviations from them have gained Fischer a fair amount of criticism, both good and bad.”It never ceases to amaze me how many people have such a strong opinion about Thai food, whether they’ve eaten Thai food or been to Thailand.”Fischer accepts both the good and bad criticism, but stands behind his food. He uses only fresh, in-season and original Thai ingredients. Diners won’t find broccoli, a staple of some Asian cooking in America, in his dishes unless it’s Chinese broccoli and it’s in-season. He has also stuck with authentic recipes through a few menu modifications since he opened in December. “For people that are open-minded, this food works,” he said. But, “It’s not going to be all things to all people.””Thai Food” not only guided the direction Fischer’s dishes take, but also the creation of phat thai itself. Had Fischer not been reading “Thai Food” when the lease on phat thai’s building became available, phat thai may have been an altogether different restaurant, he said. “We’d been looking for a second restaurant for a long time,” he said. But “it wasn’t like we had this grand scheme to do a Thai restaurant.””No one was doing Thai on the Western Slope a year ago,” he said. Now, “Everybody’s opening up a Thai restaurant. If they would’ve done this a year ago, they would have saved us the trouble,” he joked. Fischer first gained fame in the valley six years ago when he opened 689, which turned out to be an “overwhelmingly favorable idea” for diners all over the the valley, he said.But phat thai is not another 689.”Everything about this restaurant and 689 is different,” he said. The pace of the service is faster at phat thai, the menu less expensive, “It’s just louder, quicker food,” he said. When phat thai opened in December, Fischer and his staff were serving 200 plates a night. “Out of the gate the response was just overwhelmingly huge,” he said. At the six-month mark, business had slowed, and Fischer was serving 80-90 plates on weekdays and 125 a day on weekends. Despite the slowdown, Fischer is preparing for a big summer. He’s busy doing whatever needs to be done to keep two restaurants running smoothly. “I’m not sure what happened to make chefs rock stars,” he said, referring to the enormous popularity of TV chefs and restaurant-based reality shows.”It’s more along the lines of loading a buttload of produce and beef into the walk-in.”But even with balancing managing, cooking, two restaurants, and criticism from his customers, Fischer is optimistic. “The future always looks bright,” he said.


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