Thai Taste Blog
Review from Jeff Cox, food critic for The Press Democrat
By Jeff Cox, for the Press Democrat
May 30, 2010
Where: 170 Farmers Lane (in the Sunrise Shopping Plaza), Santa Rosa
When: Lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 4:30 to 9 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. Saturday dinner from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Closed Sundays
Reservations and take-out: Call 526-3888
Price range: Inexpensive to moderate, with all entrees $15 or under
Ambiance: 2 stars
Service: 3 stars
Food: 2 stars
Overall: 2 stars
4 stars: Extraordinary
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Not very good
At Thai Taste, tucked in the row of shops in the Sunrise Shopping Plaza at the north end of Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa, chicken reigns supreme. The appetizer served at every Thai restaurant, Chicken Satay ($8.75, 3 stars), may be a cliché, but it's a delicious one. Here, you get six bamboo skewers, each fitted with long slices of chicken breast marinated in coconut milk and spices, then grilled. They are served with peanut sauce for dipping and a small cucumber salad.
The peanut sauce shows up with other dishes, too, and is a staple of the Thai table. It should taste of peanuts, but strangely, the sauce at this restaurant missed that familiar flavor, or the peanut flavor sank beneath the oil used to prepare it.
Chicken is also the featured component of Larb Gai ($8.50, 2½ stars), a salad made with finely ground chicken, mint, romaine lettuce, and other leafy greens dressed in a slightly spicy sauce. It came to the table room temperature, which says it's spent some time out of the fridge. It was a delightfully minty, fresh-tasting salad, but serving it cold, or at least cool, would be a reassurance.
A warm, clear and comforting chicken broth was the basis of Gang Jird ($4, 3 stars), a small bowl of soup with diced green onions, mushrooms, tofu and zucchini, plus wilted spinach leaves, a few leaves of cilantro and a sprinkle of black pepper. This would be the perfect antidote to a case of the sniffles, or if you're chilly from all the rain in this year's season of extended wet weather.
Thai Taste has expanded from its original small dining room into the room next door, adding 13 tables on two levels separated by a ramp. The restaurant has been open for nine years, and the new room opened five months ago. Both walls and tablecloths are soft, pastel pink, and the tables are topped with glass. Two opposing walls are fitted with recessed and lighted square boxes in which colorful and fanciful Thai figures strike poses behind lightly frosted glass. The effect is enchanting.
The food overall seems to have lost some of the brightness and immediacy that characterized it when the place first opened. Maybe that's just in the nature of things, but along with some excellent dishes, there were some disappointments.
Fresh Rolls ($7, 2 stars) were an example. The order consists of a generous four rolls, but instead of small shrimp rolled up in rice paper wrappers along with lettuce and mint, there was soft tofu with the consistency of farmer's cheese. Mincing the greens also took away much of their satisfying crunch.
Stars beside dishes on the menu are supposed to indicate the degree of spiciness, from no stars equaling no spiciness to four stars equaling a conflagration in the mouth. Thus the Scallop Curry ($12.95, 2 stars), should have had a decent blast of chili pepper heat. But while the small bay scallops and snow peas, bell peppers, carrots, onions, bamboo shoots and lemongrass were bathed in coconut milk flavored with red curry paste, the bath was less than tepid in terms of fire. In fact, it showed a complete lack of spicy heat.
Pad Talay ($15, 2 stars) was given a heat rating of one star on the menu, and it was indeed mildly spicy, which helped add interest to the dish. All this emphasis on spiciness at Thai restaurants in America is because Americans tend to be gustatory wimps when it comes to chili peppers' fiery heat. Some do like it hot, especially those with ethnic backgrounds where spiciness is part of the mealtime fun (India, Central America and the Caribbean, tropical Africa, parts of Asia, Southeast Asia). But you won't find much heat in the cooking of England, Ireland, France, Germany, Eastern Europe or Scandinavia — the heritage of many Americans.
At Thai Taste, Pad Talay includes the Fingerroot herb, also known as Krachai, Chinese Keys, and Temu Kunci in Indonesian. It's refreshing and crunchy, with a light, lemony flavor somewhere between galangal and ginger. The dish itself is an elaborate stir fry containing salmon, cuttlefish, prawns, scallops, bell peppers, carrots and onions, along with the Krachai. While you'd think this dish would be popping with bright flavor, it comes off as flat and a little too oily.
The flat and oily qualities also show up in the dish called Pad Woonsen ($8.95, 2 stars). Clear noodles are stir-fried with egg, Chinese cabbage, broccoli florets, carrots, onions, scallions and bean sprouts. You can order it with vegetables, chicken, pork, beef or prawns. I tried it with pork, which was chewy. The flavors didn't have much snap and the dish seemed tired.
Eggplant Sautee ($8.95, 2 stars), like the Pad Talay and Pad Woonsen, was good — but it too lacked liveliness on the palate. The flavors were more muddy than the clear and bright essences that Thai food is known for.
Dinner ended with a flourish with an order of Sticky Rice with Mango ($7.25, 3 stars), a nicely prepared dessert of sweet, sticky rice topped with coconut cream and paired with six slices of not quite ripe mango.
Looking back over the items, I realized that it was the chicken dishes — the satay, larb gai, and chicken broth soup — that showed the love that good cooking always reveals. Thai cooks have been preparing these jungle birds for 10,000 years and they've got it right.
To sum up: The food is good at Thai Taste, but it could be better.