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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008

Blending Cuisines

Thailand meets Japan

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On my first visit to the Taste of Thai, I expected a similar version of the building’s former tenant, the Thai Hot Cafe. The former restaurant served food that was pre-made, a la Wong’s Wok, so the new setup proved to be a pleasant surprise. The walls have wooden paneling much like a traditional Thai teakwood house, and the dozen tables are made of dark wood. Decorations are few but choice, and there is a sushi bar that seats four.

Yes, sushi! The Taste of Thai combines Thai food with that of Japan. Korean restaurants often serve up Japanese food, and this combination of Thai and Japanese cuisine isn’t a new idea, either. Tommy Tang’s restaurant in Los Angeles, which opened in the early 1980s, was perhaps the first.

Apart from a few dishes, like the miso soup and tempura udon, the appetizer menu leans toward Japanese selections. Though the sushi bar wasn’t open during my visit, expect to find edamame, gyoza, sunomono and a few maki sushis that are prepared in the kitchen.

The Thai side is expressed in the soups, entrees, and rice and noodle dishes. One of the few Thai appetizers is tod mun ($7), a serving of five small fish cakes. The presentation is Japanese style, with the cakes served on a square white plate with sliced cucumber, onion, carrot threads and a dish of sweet sauce with crushed peanuts. The flavors, accentuated by a hint of hot pepper, are pure Thai in these excellent fish cakes. The asparagus beef roll ($9) gives a nod toward Japan. It is a beefy twist on maki sushi; thin slices of beef are wrapped around asparagus spears and coated with teriyaki sauce. The beef could be a bit more moist and tender at this price. Thailand dominates the soups. Tom yum chicken ($4-$11) has an abundance of breast meat and straw mushrooms. The tart and spicy broth is standard, but bits of lemon grass and kaffir lime leaf impart a bit of a citric tang. Won-ton soup ($4-$11) is a simple affair: a clear broth with fresh bean sprouts, roast pork and some noteworthy won tons filled with shrimp. It’s light and refreshing.

The Thai yellow curry advertises itself as homemade, which ordinarily would be a plus. Thai curries are blends of spices, so why is the dominant flavor here just the sweetness of sugar? The curry pork ($14) arrives in a bowl with sliced onions, whole peanuts and chunks of white potato. The potato is served al dente (i.e. underdone). The menu description of lime chicken ($12) reads as a Thai item—steamed chicken with mushrooms, lemon grass, lime leaf, galangal and coconut cream—but what arrives is another story. The mushrooms and herbs are absent and the slices of chicken breast are coated with panko crumbs. That and the garnish of raw daikon radish and carrot say Japanese. The coconut cream is like mayonnaise with a hint of sweet coconut flavor. The result is not bad at all, simply not what the menu implies. The new setting at Taste of Thai has plenty of charm, though the sushi as yet remains untested. The prices for the Thai items are above average, while the Japanese fare seems to be the right rate. The ambition and novelty of the menu are appreciated, and menu descriptions seem accurate, with the exception of the lime chicken. If more items were of the quality of the tod mun, versus the yellow curry, the Taste of Thai would merit a strong recommendation.

There are gems on this menu as well as an occasional misstep. Perhaps you just can’t get the best of both worlds.

TASTE OF THAI
315 E. Wisconsin Ave. (414) 297-9995 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke Free Handicap Access: Yes

Photos by Tate Bunker