Restaurant review

Thai Thai offers a mildly spiced alternative for Asian food lovers

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin /

Published Sep 17, 2010 at 05:00AM

If you like Thai food that doesn’t explode through your sinuses, food that is fresh and mildly spiced, then Thai Thai — a new Asian restaurant in NorthWest Crossing — might be just the kind of place you’re looking for.

“We don’t make it spicy,” said Vivah Vachiraseneekul, the head chef and co-owner. “You have to ask for it.”

It’s hard to find fault with a restaurant that is true to its intention, even though it’s my opinion that Thai food loses authenticity if it is not peppery hot.

At Thai Thai, not only is the produce garden-fresh, the portions are generous and the service, while not sophisticated, is very friendly and willing to accommodate almost every request. The decor has been enhanced with the addition of Thai artwork and photographs, and Asian pop music is piped even to the outside patio dining area.

On June 1, Vachiraseneekul and partner Corey Bock took over the space originally built for the 38 Degrees Mediterranean Bistro.

Although Thai Thai is the third new restaurant to fill the room since 38 Degrees closed in mid-2008, they have high hopes of success for what they consider a neighborhood restaurant. “So far, we’re exceeding expectations,” said Bock, who also works in The Bulletin’s information technology department.

Regional variations

Thai cuisine is distinguished by the use of ingredients that are spicy, sweet, sour and salty. And there are subtle regional variations.

As the capital and largest city of Thailand, Bangkok — which was Vachiraseneekul’s home before she moved to the United States a decade ago — is a melting pot of these different elements: the hearty chilies of Chiang Mai in the north, the light sauces of Surin in the northeast, the coconut curries of Hat Yai in the south.

I point this out because there may be differences in the way dishes are prepared at Thai Thai. Bock attributed this to a staff of cooks raised in various parts of Thailand. An example:

Larb Gai, a minced chicken salad, is not served in the same manner in Bangkok as it is in the Laos border area of Thailand. In its metropolitan form, it can be a model lettuce wrap; diners may scoop the saute of chicken, onion and mint into a large green leaf, rolling it up and eating it with their fingers.

When I ordered Larb Gai at Thai Thai, the same ingredients were served as a single large plate. Yet even though the presentation was not what I am used to, the flavor was much the same. The chicken — blended with white and green onions, carrots and cilantro, tossed in a light chile-lime sauce — was presented on a bed of iceberg lettuce and other salad greens, including arugula, spinach, red cabbage and mint.

“The woman who likes to cook this dish is from northeastern Thailand,” Bock explained. “Vivah or another cook might not make it the same way.”

Ordering with stars

When I first visited, my dining companion and I ordered everything “two stars” on a scale of five. We were disappointed to find virtually no piquancy to our curries and stir-fries.

When I returned alone for lunch, I requested a “four-star” meal, yet one dish was notably spicier than the other. A tureen of soup achieved my desired level of spiciness; but the chicken salad, prepared by the cook from the northeast, was still much too mild, compelling me to add several dashes of chili oil.

The soup — Tom Yum Goong, a hot-and-sour shrimp soup — was delicious. My bowl featured five large prawns in a tomato-based broth, with lots of sliced mushrooms, thick tomato wedges, onions and cilantro. It did seem to have an inordinate amount of lemon grass and bay leaves for a small bowl of soup; although they add marvelous flavor, they can’t be eaten and could easily be strained out before serving.

Better than average

Other than being too mild, our dinner at Thai Thai was a better-than-average experience.

We started with vegetable spring rolls, the ingredients — rice noodles, lettuce, carrots, mint and basil leaves, and shrimp (tofu is an option) — wrapped in translucent rice paper. The dish was fresh and tasty, but we wished that the rolls had not been pre-cut into separate pieces. This is finger food, and we couldn’t keep the ingredients from falling out as we dipped the rolls into a traditional Thai peanut sauce.

Satay skewers of grilled marinated chicken were tender and delicious. They were served with peanut sauce and a vinegary cucumber sauce.

I enjoyed the papaya salad, made with julienned cuts of green (young) papaya fruit and carrots. It was served together with green beans, tomatoes, shrimp and crushed peanuts in a light lime-chili sauce.

A portion of red curry, which we ordered with pork, was simmered in coconut milk together with kaffir lime leaves, red and green bell peppers, bamboo shoots and basil leaves. I would have been happy with fewer shoots and more other vegetables, such as spinach and mushrooms, but the curry added good flavor to a dish of steamed rice.

So, too, did a plate of farm-fresh, stir-fried green beans with tofu and carrots, presented in a mild garlic sauce.

Catering to students and faculty at nearby Summit High School, Thai Thai has begun offering $5.50 weekday lunches to patrons who present school identification. The offer, said Bock, extends to Central Oregon Community College and other local schools. Keeping the process simple, student meals are for selected items, are served on paper plates, and are ordered and picked up at the counter.

SMALL BITES

A corner deli and bakery plans to celebrate its grand opening in downtown Redmond during the city’s Harvest Block Festival from 6 to 9 tonight. Soup 2 Nuts 2 Go will specialize in gourmet sandwiches and designer salads, according to owner Rozy Arno. She said the deli, which is located in the Landaker Building at Southwest Sixth Street and Evergreen Avenue, will emphasize local ingredients and sustainable practices. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. 457 S.W. Sixth St., Redmond; 541-526-5611.

The Old Mill Brew Werks has announced an Oct. 1 opening in Bend’s Phoenix West Building, former location of the Old Mill Bistro and Phoenix Cafe. In addition to a range of happy-hour specials and hard-to-find beers, the restaurant’s owners are promising a range of weekday breakfasts — including quiches, pastries and granola parfaits — and lunches of soups, salads and sandwiches. 384 S.W. Upper Terrace Drive, Bend; 541-633-7670.

RECENT REVIEWS

Krista’s at Widgi Creek (B+): A clientele composed mainly of golfers and Widgi Creek residents supports this friendly bar and grill with a big outdoor deck next to the golf club’s putting green. The menu features salads, sandwiches and pizzas that are simple but well prepared. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or later) every day. 18707 S.W. Century Drive, Bend; 541-382-4449, www.widgi.com. (Seasonally closed Nov. 1 to March 1, depending on weather.)

Cafe Alfresco (B+): Farm-fresh produce is prepared with a variety of pastas, although the kitchen tends to be heavy-handed with seasoning. Service is friendly and efficient; prices are moderate. The renovated two-story house has a lovely secluded garden for al fresco dining. Open 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close every day. 614 N.W. Cedar Ave., Redmond; 541-923-2599, www.facebook.com/cafealfresco.redmond.

Pine Tavern (B): A dinner with disappointing food and service was followed by a superb salmon-salad lunch on the lovely riverside patio, begging the question: Would the real Pine Tavern please stand up? The restaurant has been a Central Oregon institution since 1936. Brunch 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (summer only); lunch starting at 11:30 a.m. Monday to Saturday; dinner 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. every day. 967 N.W. Brooks St. (at Oregon Avenue), Bend; 541-382-5581, www.pinetavern.com.

Rimrock Cafe (B+): The cafe at Bend’s High Desert Museum may not be gourmet, but the soups, salads and sandwiches served here are fresh, tasty and generous in portion. Seating is indoors and outdoors, with chipmunks always ready to beg for a patio meal. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. 59800 S. U.S. Highway 97, Bend; 541-382-4754, www.highdesertmuseum.org.

Thai Thai

Location: 745 Mount Washington Drive, Suite 200, Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday

Price range: Appetizers $5.50 to $7.50, main dishes $5.95 to $11.95; lunch specials $6.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Yes

Vegetarian menu: Many choices

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: Yes

Reservations: Requested for large parties

Contact: 541-633-7222 or www.thaithaibend.com

Scorecard

OVERALL: B+

Food: B+. Fresh ingredients served with mild spices and varied styles of preparation

Service: A-. Unsophisticated but friendly and willing to accommodate requests

Atmosphere: B. Thai art and photos enhance an oft-used restaurant space

Value: A. Dinner prices are lower than at Thai restaurants in downtown Bend.

Next week: Rockin’ Daves Bagel Bistro

Visit www.bendbulletin.com /restaurants for readers’ ratings of more than 150 Central Oregon restaurants.

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