Pad Thai is usually a ho-hum dish in most Thai restaurants, but in Mohan Ismail's hands, the dish is elevated - there is fried tofu and shrimp, soft rice noodles and plenty of fish sauce, plus bean sprouts, scallions and peanuts. As Executive Chef of L.A.-based RockSugar, which just opened its second location at Oak Brook Mall, he's adding a jolt of chilies, lime and herbs to a mall overloaded with steaks.
"Basically food from Singapore, where I'm from, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, so just basically food from Southeast Asia," said Ismail, the Executive Chef.
Tiny ribs are fried and sautéed in a sweet-spicy and sticky Szechuan-chili sauce; whole branzino is fried, then coated in a blanket of sauce imbued with lime leaves, Thai basil, chilies and onions.
There's Hokkien noodles and shrimp curry; soft pork belly buns and addictive Japanese eggplant. Ismail's favorite is likely the Hainanese chicken rice. A dish with strong Singapore roots, the trio of dipping sauces makes it irresistible.
"The rice is made with chicken fat, chicken broth, lemongrass, ginger. So they call it chicken rice, but it's actually rice chicken," said Ismail. "It's such a simplistic but such a comforting dish itself and it's also a dish that I crave every single time I go back home."
Ismail says one of the reasons the restaurant is near the mall is space. Its soaring ceiling and large footprint would be difficult to find in the city. But it's also here because there's simply demand this far West.
"Such a perfect place to have a second location in the burbs itself," he said.
So if you live in the Western suburbs and you miss those beautiful, complex, fiery, funky flavors from Southeast Asia - the peanuts, the chilies, all the fresh herbs - and you don't feel like driving into the city to get them? Well, the good news is, you no longer have to.
In Steve's Extra Course video he takes a closer look at a trio of desserts from the restaurant - each satisfying a different type of sweet tooth.
RockSugar Southeast Asian Kitchen
2022 Spring Rd, Oak Brook