This cold, frigid, midweek frozen tundra that is Champaign-Urbana has only a few solutions — one of them being warm food, inside. That's the only thing I'll say about weather and Restaurant Week, because now its time to discuss my trip to Sticky Rice, one of Downtown Champaign's newest restaurants.
One of our writers, Matt Macomber, reviewed this Thai-Laotian restaurant a few months back, so check that out after you're done reading here.
We made our way into the restaurant, and I couldn't help but remember the spots that existed there before it: Most recently, Wedge, and before that, Carmon's Bistro. I'm not here to talk about the ambiance of the place, I just thought I'd include a bit of a nostalgia trip for all of those who might remember the space.
The service was excellent, first and foremost; the waitstaff was very attentive and polite, and this was my first time eating here, so that's always a good starter. We sat and checked out the RW menu, which was coursed out. I thought this was great considering this isn't a coursing-style restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, and felt that it was a great showcase of Sticky Rice's excitement to be participant in the event.
The RW menu is four courses: A starter, an appetizer salad, an entree, dessert, plus your choice of beverage, all for $29. That's a great deal, and my girlfriend and I were intending to split one of these, though we were told there's a $6 plating fee to share. Technically, this is a $29 per person offering. So, this wasn't something we were aware of entering the meal — ultimately we understood as reasonable people, of course — and in the end, you'll soon realize that $35 for all the food we got made us feel a bit better.
While we're on the topic of dollars and cents — Sticky Rice's policy includes a 4% transaction fee for credit card payments. Just FYI.
We started out with the Thai iced coffee option, which... [shit, I said I wouldn't mention the frigid weather again... uhhh...] was great even on the coldest of nights.
[Damnit, OK, sorry — I had to do that.]
It was a nice component of the meal, though iced coffee isn't a typical pre-meal drink for me. That said, it was tall, and easily sharable, and sweet-but-not-too-sweet.
Before I proceed to the rest of the meal, keep in mind the photos you're seeing here are just one half of what we were served, not the full serving. Each of these dishes was duplicated, so we didn't feel as though we were being slighted with portion sizes whatsoever. Let's just say we took home some leftovers after we finished up.
The Luuk Seen starter is a kabob of fried meatballs with a slightly tough outer layer and a soft inside, and the dipping sauce that accompanied it was a bit spicy for me. While I believe a lot of that was due to the pepper flakes in the mixture, damn did it give my tounge a wake up call. Though delicious, this is a fair warning that it is a bit on the spicy side, though with those meatballs dipped in there, you're in for a nice first taste to your meal. These came with sticky rice, of course, which is kind of impossible to stop from eating because it is very sticky and good.
The Laap Kai is a Lao chicken salad with various veggies included (red and green onion, cucumber, jalapeño, and cilantro). The chicken salad was fresh and tasty, and though a cooler chicken dish isn't something that comes to mind for me, it was a nice contrast to what I'd just eaten, and on top of that, the cilantro flavor shined through.
This brought us to the main course — the Pad Woon Sen — which is a bean noodle stir fry with your choice of beef, chicken, pork, or tofu. We went with the beef option and were not disappointed. This is exactly the type of noodle stir fry that is cooked to perfection and not overloaded or overcomplicated. Bean noodles, bean sprouts, carrots, celery, egg, and an amazing ratio of sauce to mix it all together. This was the champion of the meal, no question.
Just when we thought we were so full we couldn't eat any more, out comes the sticky rice topped with egg custard and coconut ice cream. The combo of textures here — rice, custard, and ice cream — gave my mind a bit of a bend when I was eating it, but it was a nice cool treat to close it out.
Overall, if you're looking to share for Restaurant Week, hit up Sticky Rice — becuase even at $35 for all of this, there's a couple of meals + tax + gratuity for roughly $20 per person. Not too shabby, especially when there's leftovers to take with, I'd say that's some fairly good value for our first time visiting the new joint on Neil Street.
Visit Champaign County’s Restaurant Week continues through February 2nd.
415 N Neil St.
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.
Photos by Anna Longworth