Not for disaster
Thai Recipes132 E St.
Davis, CA 95616
Thai Recipes in Davis has a lot going for it, including its scenic location. In Mansion Square on E Street, the restaurant is kitty-corner from Crepe House Uni, whose front window is plastered with plastic, down-pointing triangles of crepes, varying from some appetizing-looking dessert offerings to a fantastically unappealing crepe with a mound of hamburger at its center.
My luncheon companion, Claudia Morain, considers it important that I feast my eyes on the triangles. Claudia is one of the most talented members of the UC Davis News Service, which touts research and other activities, as well as connects reporters with supersmart professors and experts who often stumble into quotability.
Claudia’s opinion that Thai Recipes is the best restaurant of its kind in a town with at least a half-dozen competitors is another big plus. The restaurant is upscale enough that a couple decked out for the Latex Vishnu String Quartet performing a medley of Béla Bartók polkas at the Mondavi Center would feel just as at home as someone biking over between classes.
The menu is varied. There are scads of vegetarian options. Like most lunchtime Thai places, it’s got the usual stir-fry options: basil, garlic, cashews, ginger and so on. Chicken or fried or fresh tofu is $8.95. Pork and beef, $9.95. Prawns, $11.95.
Mrs. Lucas, our household’s vegetarian, would jump on the pad pak—sautéed broccoli, carrot, zucchini, cabbage, mushroom, baby corn—and happily add nothing else. A regular, Claudia usually orders the daily specials. Today is no exception: Between the pad woon sen (glass noodles) and crab ($10.95) or panang salmon ($10.95), she opts for salmon.
Claudia and her husband, Los Angeles Times reporter Dan Morain, have sworn a New Year’s death-to-carbs blood oath, so Claudia convinces the waitress, with some difficulty, to hold the rice.
I ask what the waitress likes in the world of noodle dishes. Pad khee mao, she replies without hesitation. Unfamiliar with the dish, despite long years of Thai tasting, including in Thailand, I give the menu a quick look before agreeing. Chicken, prawns, zucchini, tomato, carrot, onion, broccoli, bamboo shoots, basil, chili and garlic with pan-fried flat noodles. There’s a glass-noodle option in lieu of the flat noodles. Both $9.95.
What’s not to like except, in a major policy agreement with President Bush the Elder, hold the broccoli.
Thai ice tea and lemonade are slow in coming. Claudia holds up her water glass; the last time it was full occurred during the Coolidge administration. The water incident points to the probability that service might not be a big strength of Davis restaurants, since the servers are all probably students mainly interested in earning a little scratch.
The cup of complimentary soup is creative. There’s the usual broth suspects: zucchini bits, carrot shards, cauliflower piecelets, but with very distinctive spicing. I recognize it but can’t put my finger on it. Claudia ventures anise. We ask the chef when she brings out the entrees. It’s Chinese five spice, which is comprised of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and—man smart, woman smarter—anise.
Claudia’s coconut-milk-driven panang sauce is flavorful but not flammable. The salmon, beneath a hatchwork of asparagus spears, is dry. Claudia gives me a piece to prove it. I assure her that when it comes to dry salmon, her word, or anyone else’s for that matter, is sufficient.
Pad khee-mao, the waitress says, is also known as “drunken noodles.” That dish I know, but this is like no drunken noodles I’ve ever eaten. There’s no bell pepper, red or green. Damned if I can find the tomatoes promised by the menu. There is, however, an extravagance of zucchini poker chips and carrot rounds the size of Susan B. Anthony dollars, a majority of which remain on the plate at meal’s end.
Absent the proliferation of produce, the noodles are swell—pretty much the same as at Gaesorn Thai Cuisine on Ninth Street in Sacramento, which offers them for a buck less.
While the chef’s choices aren’t in complete accord with my tastes, some creativity in the kitchen, as with the soup, is always appealing.