It’s a Thai

Maybe what anxiety-ridden America needs is a king. A benevolent monarch, someone like His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the royal highness of Thailand. You may have never heard the name, but surely you can place the face. The king’s portrait, usually beside that of his wife’s, Her Majesty Queen Mom Rajawongse Sirikit, graces the interior of just about every Thai restaurant in the country. There’s something calming about the king’s countenance, a paternal “everything’s going to be all right” sort of vibe that always seems to carry at least through to the end of the meal. Such was the case on two recent visits to Thai Palms at any rate.

It’s not simple, figuratively or literally, to pick Thai Palms out of the crowd of a dozen or so Thai restaurants that have proliferated here in recent years. It doesn’t help that the restaurant’s subdued two-tone logo out front is completely overwhelmed by next-door neighbor LaBou’s garish, rainbow-hued signage. It’d be real easy to drive right by Thai Palms, and while you’d miss out, chances are you’d be able to find what you’d missed, for better or worse, at any other Thai place in town.

One of the things you’d miss would be the excellent interior décor. The aforementioned royal portraits gaze out upon an immaculate mustard and dark green space adorned with historic Thai relics, including a jade-studded peacock, a gold-embroidered elephant tapestry and several statues of Buddha. The layout and attention to detail are superb; the smallish rectangular space never feels claustrophobic, even when full of people.

Would that the same attention to detail be paid to all of the dishes offered by Thai Palms. On two occasions, we met with dishes that neither hit nor missed, but landed somewhere in between great and so-so. That’s not to say Thai Palms doesn’t have good food; there’s just nothing we tried that’s really that outstanding.

For instance, tod mun pla, fried fish cakes, were delicious, spongy, renditions of the classic Thai appetizer, but on both occasions, we sampled spring rolls that were loosely rolled and contained little shrimp meat. Factor in a rather oily peanut sauce, and the appetizers fought to a draw.

Gang kiew warn, chicken with green curry, was barely green and seemed practically devoid of curry, which may have been our mistake for ordering it “hot” instead of “Thai hot.” If you’re into heat, make sure you ask for it.

The vote was split on pad thai goongsod. One member of the party liked it because the noodles were dry, and another didn’t like it because they weren’t wet enough. They also complained that there were not enough chopped peanuts on the dish. Both agreed that the shrimp were done just right.

Perhaps the closest thing to a hit at Thai Palms was kra pao makur, stir-fried Japanese eggplant with chili and sweet basil leaves. The eggplant, sliced in bite-sized chunks, was fresh and firm in this dish; large pieces of fresh ginger added a spicy punch to the chili and basil. Who says being a vegetarian has to be boring?

From the lunch menu, we sampled pad prik king, stir-fried pork with red curry sauce and string beans; and pad keemao, stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp, calamari, sweet basil leaves and chili. These rice plates provided generous portions and were priced well at $5.95 and $6.95, respectively, but again featured flavors that more or less remained anonymous.

That’s unusual for a good Thai restaurant, but perhaps our recent experiences at Thai Palms are more a reflection of Sacramento’s growing restaurant scene than any changes that have taken place at Thai Palms. New restaurants like Thai Palace in East Sacramento are offering diners better food than can be had in San Francisco, and places like Thai Palms will have to follow suit if they wish to remain competitive.

No need to be alarmed, for the time being. Thai Palms remains a good if not great restaurant, and somehow, with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej watching over everything, you just know it’s going to be all right.