We Review Thai Thai

Thai Thai

Since I first discovered Thai cuisine some thirty years ago it has been one of my favorite kinds of eating. Good Thai chefs know how to blend the basics: hot, sour, sweet and salty in a fresh, fragrant and ever exotic way to stimulate all five senses. So when Thai Thai (TT), formerly known as Thai Talay came to town eight or so years ago I was determined to do my share to keep it in business. I haven't quite eaten my way through the whole menu; the mango delight and pad thai noodles keep beckoning and to date never disappoint; but after numerous visits I still envision tasting everything the place has to offer as a worthy goal.

One of the first impressions a diner has is of owner Charlie in his big Panama hat greeting the public. I can't help but smile every time I see his boyish face because he really seems to love what he's doing. The restaurant itself is homey even if your personal dining room doesn't pay homage to the royalty of Indonesia. The walls are yellow sponge painted with Thai art adorning; bright colored curtains accent the two walls of windows. In summer there are flowers on the table. The service is fast and efficient without feeling rushed.

Most restaurants make their money on alcohol more than food. Thai Thai exceptional goodness is attested to by its survival sans liquor license. (Although I must say, TT's fresh lime juice at $1.95 a glass would be a great compliment to a shot of vodka or rum.) Its very lime tartness and sweetness is the ultimate in refreshing and helps cool the chilies in your meal. My standard Thai iced tea ($1.95) is a dessert in itself. I've tried to duplicate the creamy sugary goodness at home without success. For those who have never tasted it I believe it is made with high quality Thai tea, evaporated milk and palm sugar. Although it's not on the menu you can also request a fragrant hot Thai tea without adjunct for around $1.

When Bear and I reviewed TT one wintry Saturday evening we decided to combine tasting familiar dishes for the Americanized with more authentic Oriental treats. The unadventurous can't go wrong with the oh-so-crispy egg rolls (4 for $4) served with a light and tasty plum sauce. I usually don't like the ones I've had at so many Chinese restaurants that are more fried breaded outside than yummy healthy inside. At Thai Thai they use black mushrooms that have a musky flavor, carrots and cabbage to fill the never greasy egg roll skins. On our recent visit Bear and I had Chicken Meing ($7.50) for the first, but I assure you it won't be the last, time. I could easily have made a meal out of this hotly spiced chicken gooey peanuty wondrous stuff. It was served with remarkably crisp iceberg leaves, ginger so fresh it made my eyes water, teeny tart lime slices and peanuts. I didn't quite know how I was supposed to eat it, but we used the lettuce like a wrap and layered the goodies within. It worked. The sweet and sour accompaniment sauce was vinegary with red chiles and peanut crumbs floating in it.

Another appetizer sure to please everybody is the chicken satay (5 pieces for $7.50.) The chicken breast marinated in coconut milk and curry is never dry and the spicy peanut sauce is so yummy I want to lick the platter. For dieters and vegetarians I recommend the salad rolls (2 for $4.) A salad roll is a plump, hearty chunk of lettuce, rice noodles and tofu wrapped in rice paper served cold with a hoi sin peanut sauce on the side. Tiny tastes of this delicious sauce go a long way to tinge your healthy eating with gourmet. I would steer the diner away from the Thai Thai sample plate ($10.50) unless fried tofu appeals to you.

We didn't order soup for this review but the TT creations are definitely worth a passing thumb up. At lunch a soup du jour (I wonder what the Thai word for day is?) comes with the meal. My favorite is the Tom Kha, a coconut milk based concoction with fragrant and citrusy overtones. Bear likes to make a meal out of the Po' Tak, a seafood and basil pleasure (or Thailand's answer to cioppino.)

Thai Thai

TT's menu is pages of enticement with multiple choices. Although TT lets you choose how many peppers with which you want your dinner flavored, I think their idea of hot is more than the average Bandonian's. In other places I like my heat medium but at Thai Thai I choose mild or 'mild plus.' For most of their stir fries and curries you can choose your protein (vegetable, tofu, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or seafood combination.)

On our recent dining adventure I ordered the evening's special, a eggplant and chicken green curry with a crispy rice salad ($10.50.) This curry favored the spicy sour side of the spectrum with a nice balance of chicken and veggies enhanced by what I guessed to be lemongrass and coriander. Personally I prefer yellow curry which features turmeric and is a bit sweeter, but this was a pleasant change of pace for me. As in many Asian cuisines, meat is more of a condiment than main course but with sufficient chicken to please the protein palate. What I really liked was there was enough sauce to soak up the perfectly prepared steamed rice. I had never had 'crispy rice salad' and found it to be extraordinary. I have no idea how they cook rice to the texture of nuts. The dressing was a vinegary sweet and soy superb sensation. I could have easily made it a meal.

Bear (the Carnivore) had the BBQ grilled plate ($12.50.) TT's BBQ is not tomatoey or burn your tongue off hot. The taste was its own, a subtle blend of chile and soy. It was served with a sauce that we dissected to be rice vinegar, lemongrass and mirin. Even if we got the ingredients wrong, let me assure you it was awesome. Bear is from Alabama and is known around town for the care he puts into grilling his meat and creating his sauce. The Master of Understatement said, "Thai Thai prepared the meat properly." The pork practically fell off the bone, the chicken had a wonderful glaze and the beef was cooked thoroughly without being dry.

Finally, it was time for dessert. I had been holding back all evening for the fried banana served with chocolate sauce. This stuff is truly finger licking and fudgey dipping good. Usually the batter is light, the banana creamy and the chocolate to die for. Eat your heart out bananas foster; this manna is worth every extravagant calorie. However, it wasn't on the menu that night. Charlie told me, "Grandma is in Thailand; come back when she gets back." Undeterred we tried the closest thing they offered which was fried banana with homemade coconut ice cream. As Charlie cautioned the batter was 'adequate' but not glorious. The ice cream was sweet, flavorful light and cold. It would have been lovely on a warmer night. Knowing what could have been I left disappointed but wiser. Order the fried banana when grandma is in town.

A word of caution: The portions are large at TT. As a restaurant reviewer Mongo orders me to try appetizers, entrees and desserts. This is too much food to eat at one sitting. I literally had Thai leftovers for 2-3 more meals. For two appetizers, two entrees, a drink and a dessert our meal was $52 including tip. Normally I spend much less.

Address:160 Baltimore in Old Town Bandon, telephone 329-0160; Hours: 11-7:30, Monday-Thursday; 11:00-8:30 Friday and Saturday, closed Sunday. Three and 1/2 happy MongoThumbs!

3 1/2 Happy MongoThumbs

Reviewed February 2009 by The Ducque