Davis Thai’d up
Davis, CA 95616
The last thing Davis needs is another Thai restaurant. There are already four within a few blocks of each other: Thai Recipes, Thai Nakorn, Thai Bistro, Sophia’s Thai Kitchen.
But in the restaurant world, Thai or otherwise, it’s kind of like lawyers: There’s always room for one more good one. And KetMoRee is a good place to eat.
Adding to the upscale ambience reflected in the menu’s prices are dark wood tables and pink cloth teardrop-shaped hanging lights and two larger garlic-bulb-shaped cloth lights. Coupled with a cluster of small upside-down red tulip lights, the constellation makes the beam-laced ceiling seem less distant.
KetMoRee presents the standard lunchtime Thai stir-fry—basil, garlic, cashews and the like—the usual tom soups—kha and yum, spicy or unspicy—curries galore and a panoply of pad noodle dishes. Instead, investigate “Salads” and “Specialties.” There are lots to check out: Four salads and 12 specialties.
There isn’t a lot of spice, however, so if a day without Thai chili is like a day without sunlight, ask upfront. Otherwise, two waiter-brought small bowls—one chili sauce, one chili flakes—is the only recourse. This despite KetMo making its own fish sauce with jalapeño. Bottles of the same on each table, please.
An additional word of warning: Portions are plentiful. Dishes scream to be shared. On all three visits, large swaths of lunch get carted home to the Lucas Family Test Kitchen because, doggone it, each visit turned out to be a solo flight. Not for want of trying. Copious e-mail invitations were ignored or politely rejected. A lesser man would get a complex.
But whatever complex that lesser man contracts, KetMoRee can cure it. Begin with the $8 yum nua, KetMo’s beef salad, a pyramid of red onions, scallions and cilantro. The menu omits the carrots. The salad is crazy with carrot strings, pickled like the ones in Vietnamese banh mi. The thin slices of beef are done but not overdone, the lime-influenced dressing a snappy complement.
Much of the Everest of pineapple rice, $14, that follows comes home in a black Styrofoam box that matches the color of the napkins. In a nice bit of attention to detail, a label is affixed indicating the date and the box’s contents. The mix of raisins, cashews, onions, pineapple, chicken and shrimp with two tomato slices and two cucumber coins at its compass points is festive to view and devour. In another nice bit of detail work, the tails are removed from the shrimp.
Another worthy salad/specialty combo is the Paul Bunyan-sized cucumber salad and the $17 Seafood in a Pot. The chopped, skin-on cukes—accompanied by red onion, carrots and cilantro—crowd one of those off-kilter bowls that make diners worry good stuff is going to dribble out of the bottom. The buttery, garlic-laden noodles in which nestle a smattering of squid, shrimp, mussels, scallops, scallions and snow peas skyrocket in flavor after pouring the side dish of chili dipping sauce into the pot.
For lightness and freshness: Go mango. Spattered with scallions, red onion, coconut flakes and damned-difficult-to-grab-with-chopsticks cashews, the $9 salad bursts brightly. Way plenty to share. The only modest misfire is the $16 spicy pork ribs, which seem like they OD’d on five spice and offer a generous amount of carbon protein on their charred exterior. One rib is just fat. A molasseslike sauce that fails to enliven the ribs enhances the Chinese broccoli, a far superior choice than normal broccoli.
For all of Davis’ bad rap about the caliber of service, the waiters are attentive and assertive about their likes and dislikes on the menu. Again, better as a group experience, but KetMoRee delivers the goods.