NEXT WEEK: BRONX BORN PIZZA
When I last reviewed Toomie’s Thai Cuisine seven years ago, I deemed the restaurant overpriced, especially during the dinner hour. That’s no longer true.
Thai restaurants have come and gone since 2011, but Toomie’s — which burst upon the Central Oregon dining scene in 1995 — has been as steady as can be in all regards.
NEXT WEEK: BRONX BORN PIZZA
In fact, the cost of a dinner hasn’t notably changed. Today, by comparison with downtown Bend’s two other Thai restaurants, an evening meal at Toomie’s costs roughly the same as at Wild Rose and notably less than at Noi.
Of course, each of these eateries has its own, unique niche. Wild Rose specializes in hearty northern Thai cuisine. Noi lures diners with its elegant atmosphere and creative presentation.
Toomie’s, named for owner Pantip (Toomie) Staver, is more like an everyday cafe. There’s very little on the menu that you wouldn’t expect to find in a traditional Southeast Asian restaurant in Bangkok. The curries and noodle dishes, the soups and stir-fries, are very representative of Thai home cooking.
Lunches by the dozen
Lunch is a fine time to visit. The menu offers 35 set meals priced between $6.95 and $8.95, highlighted by dishes such as Moo Paht Prig King (spicy pork stir-fried with green beans and red curry) and Ka Prow Gung (garlic shrimp with basil).
I chose the Green Curry (No. 16) and substituted sliced chicken for beef. The coconut-milk curry was served in a bowl, stewed with basil, green peppers and eggplant; the latter was especially tender and delicious, which helped disguise the fact that the chicken was not.
I found it curious that the luncheon plate included white rice and Pad Thai egg noodles. Normally, I would expect carbs on an either/or basis.
A small salad — with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot, onion and boiled egg — accompanied. It was called Thai salad, but the only Asian thing about it was a light peanut dressing.
With my lunch, I enjoyed a glass of Thai iced tea, topped with sweetened condensed milk, which made it taste like a milkshake.
While there are some paintings and other Thai art inside the restaurant, large picture windows facing Minnesota Avenue are the main feature of decor at Toomie’s. These are a double-edged sword: It can be fun to watch the pedestrian traffic outside, but many of the passersby often pause to gawk at diners.
When my dining companion joined me for dinner, we stood at the hostess stand and waited several minutes before we were spotted by a server-hostess, who emerged from the kitchen on a cellphone.
In her defense, the restaurant was nearly empty at 5:30 p.m.; an hour later, when we left, only 13 of the 70 seats were filled. We noted that a family with two young children had been placed in a section of the restaurant separate from the main dining area, a decision that (depending upon the children) could benefit all concerned.
For the most part, service was fine if unremarkable. Orders were taken and delivered quickly and efficiently, although no one checked back to see if we were pleased with our orders. Easy-listening, classic-rock music played in the background.
We began our meal with an order of Phu Jaa ($8.95), known in other venues as crab puffs. Here, it was made not with real crab meat, but with surimi, or imitation crab. It was wrapped with ample cream cheese in a lightly battered wonton crisp, deep-fried and served with a sweet-and-sour sauce.
As an entree, I chose a large bowl of Thom Yum Goong ($15.95), one of my favorite soups when it’s properly prepared. It was. A clear but spicy broth of mushrooms, tomatoes, cilantro and lemongrass, it highlights plump prawns that require only a quick squeeze of the tail to release the delicious meat.
My friend selected a seafood medley called Lotus Talay ($18.95), a saute that she requested be made without the usual inclusion of mussels, to which she is allergic.
Two sizes of shrimp, scallops and slightly rubbery calamari rings — too many, she thought, but they may have been a replacement for the mussels — were sauteed in red curry and coconut milk, then served within a hollowed, steamed artichoke with a few leaves still attached. It was an unusual dish, but a good one.
Toomie’s dishes may be ordered on a spiciness scale of 1 to 5. Even with our Asian-trained palates, we found mid-range “3 stars” to be almost too hot. If you don’t know what spice level you’re comfortable with, I strongly recommend erring on the side of conservatism.
Something we didn’t expect was Toomie’s excellent wine list. Forty-three bottles of moderately priced red, white, rose and bubbly far exceeded the choice of beers.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .