Fried: Crispy Pla at Malee's

They call it "fish candy" ...

by Sarah Fenske

It was Jill's birthday, and Mari's birthday, and Kendall's birthday -- or, at least, it was a date close enough to all three to have a celebratory Girls Night Out. So we headed to the Malee's Thai Bistro at Desert Ridge -- the second location of what is indisputably the best Thai restaurant in town. (The first Malee's, a smaller, more elegant version in Old Town Scottsdale, is much closer to my house, but one of the birthday girls agreed to be my designated driver, so I wasn't complaining too much.)

We had a table of seven, and at Jill's recommendation, two of the seven chose the same entree -- crispy pla. Jill loves this dish so much, she remembers when Malee's used to call it "spicy crispy pla"; apparently the adjective was lost somewhere along the way.

Initially, I have to admit, some of the table was a little weirded out by its pla-ness. For one thing, Mari and Jill inadvertantly both ordered the "large" version of the dish, which for $21.99 gives you a full ten ounces of fish. That's a lot, even for girls like us who like (okay, love) to eat. And Meggin was convinced that the fried exterior was covering up something more nefarious: "It looks like there's skin on it!" she said, horrified.

Can you tell which of us spends her days with two little kids?

But after we all dug in, it was pretty clear that even without the "spicy" modifier, "crispy pla" has plenty of wonderful zing. The two giant filets were flash fried and then topped with a garlicky pickled jalapeno sauce and cilantro, and each bite was a new sensation: the vinegary sweet jalapeno sauce, the sharp greenness of cilantro, the soft flesh of the fish. With a good glass of pinot noir -- and trust me, there was more than one good glass shared -- it was sensational.

"I'm so loving it because it's nice and sweet, and then suddenly it's hot," Mari said, beaming over a giant forkful.

Jill, who has perhaps the world's sweetest sweet tooth, was exalting over the menu. "They call it 'fish candy,'" she said, laughing. "Now I know why I love it so much!"

Really, she loves it because it's damn good. (By the end, I think even mother-of-two Meggin would admit that.) And as we knocked off the fish and dug into the birthday cake that Kiri had brought over from Coldstone Creamery, we were a group of very happy, very full ladies.

Happy birthday, Kendall. And Mari. And Jill.

Here's to the pla!

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske

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