I remember the first time I ever had pad Thai. It was about eight years ago at Penny's Noodle Shop in the Wrigleyville neighborhood in Chicago, the very Penny's Noodle Shop that recently announced it was set to close after 23 years. Eggy, peanuty, noodley, cilantroey (OK, I should never do that again), it had everything I could hope for from an Asian noodle dish. I don't recall why I picked pad Thai out of every other dish on the menu. Maybe it sounded good that day. Maybe it was the sole dish I felt certain I could pronounce properly. Probably, I chose it on a whim.
Pad Thai became one of my favorite meals that day, though one I enjoy far less often than I used to now that I watch my sodium and cholesterol. Thai food in general rose up my preference ranks. And Penny's became one of my favorite places to eat.
All because of a whim, the same way I discovered I loved fried chicken, scallops and ambrosia. (Not at the same time, mind you. Though that would be one crazy restaurant.) Of course, my whims have not always panned out. I still shudder at the thought of a tofu dish I once ordered at an Indian restaurant. And then there was the vegetable terrine disaster. We won't even go there.
But all in all, my food whims have led me to wonderful, delectable places. And I can still remember the first place where I tried my favorite dishes. Fried chicken at a church potluck. Scallops at Solstice, a now-closed restaurant in Chicago. Ambrosia at The Trojan Horse in Bloomington, Ind. And there are many others. All of them will have a special place in my heart along with the Wrigleyville location of Penny's Noodle Shop.
It's why I try new dishes at restaurants even if it means forgoing one of my favorites. (Unless it's been a bad day. Then bring on the favorite and hopefully a large portion of it.) There's just nothing quite like that first bite of a dish you know you are going to remember for a long time.
I remember the smile on my face the first time I put a forkful of pad Thai into my mouth at Penny's Noodle Shop (still wasn't super comfortable with chopsticks at that point). I knew I was going to remember it, and I did. I'm not sad that location is closing. Because other Penny's location still are open. And beyond that, there are plenty of other places to order pad Thai. And each time I take a bite of pad Thai, whether it be at a different Penny's or a chain like Noodles & Company, a small part of me will remember that first taste of pad Thai at the Wrigleyville location. And I will smile again.
• Joe Grace is the editor of Going for Gusto. He is very happy when he has food in front of his face. Happier still when he is allowed to eat said food. Please support Going for Gusto by liking the Facebook page at Facebook.com/GoingForGusto.
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