Safely in the slot


1180 35th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95822

Erawan, a Thai place at 35th Avenue and South Land Park Drive—not the son of Arathorn—is a classic neighborhood restaurant. Like an old flannel nightgown, it’s comfy and enduring. This is obvious just from observing the number of takeout customers and the greeting of them by name by Amy, Erawan’s greatest asset. Amy is ubiquitous: server, hostess—the front woman, as it were. With her winsome smile and winning manner, there could be strychnine in the panang salmon and that would be swell.

It seems extraordinary that such a large number of eateries seem to overlook how solicitous service routinely trumps culinary deficiencies, regardless of the scope of those deficiencies. Memo to restaurant owners in such straits: Channel Amy.

Erawan doesn’t have culinary deficiencies. It offers perfectly adequate Thai food, which, it should be noted, is generally hard to honk up. Erawan, however, doesn’t have the ebullience of the chef at, say, Bangkok@12, the old Amarin downtown. Erawan offers Thai as diners expect Thai. Not “wow, this rocks so much harder than the menu suggested” but stuff that’s safely in the slot.

The somewhat charred angel wings—chicken wings stuffed with ground chicken, noodles and green onion—are angel wings and, despite having a nice peppery flair, do not redefine the angel wings concept for the new millennium. The colorful piles of cabbage and carrot shreds go nicely with the sweet-and-sour sauce. All of which is swell. But if transcendent Thai is the goal, it’s not here.

The warm wood interior of Erawan is reminiscent of traditional Thai residences. The spirit house, a fixture in Thai homes and businesses, rests below the Buddha on the wall behind the register. There are photos of Thailand’s king and queen under the twin wooden eaves over the large aquarium whose occupants, unlike those in many Chinese restaurant aquariums, are for decoration rather than devouring. As in a number of Vietnamese joints in town, there are plastic-fronded trees with phony banana clumps.

As for the lunch menu, it seems to be that replicated throughout the nation at Thai restaurants: this and that with cashews, with ginger, with basil, in red, green or yellow curry. Etc., etc.

Casting an “aye” vote for the red curry. Erawan adds some variants that boost the lunch special list to 14 items. Among them, “Broccoli Delight,” which, as regular readers will understand, are at least in this space words that don’t go together—like “Assembly Democratic leadership.” Phrink khing always entices even though it’s only green beans, coconut milk and either chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, calamari or more vegetables.

Similarly, is there a plate of spicy eggplant that’s ever tasted lousy?

The smart play is branching out beyond the lunch fare. Cautionary note: Don’t order any of the duck dishes on the menu. Amy will tell you the owner is over the aquatic fowl thing. However, even without a roasted duck salad, there’s a cornucopia of options remaining under the house specials—items 43 through 52 on the yellow paper to-go menu.

Amy is a fan of the $13.95 Hot Plate Seafood, tying the mango curry with prawns, Seafood Delight, Erawan Spicy Fish and aforementioned panang salmon as the menu’s most expensive entrees.

The Hot Plate Seafood comes on a fajitas-like platter, except it is covered with aluminum foil, which while no doubt making it easier to clean up later, doesn’t aid in spooning out the hot-and-sour sauce that showcases the abundance of shrimp, mussels, squid, whitefish, onions, baby water chestnut, and red and green bell peppers piled upon it. If preaching to the converted, will a little Reynolds Wrap put them off?

Amy throws in a Mount Shasta of white rice on the house since, unlike the lunch special, rice isn’t part of the deal on entrees.

Flawed with moments. Amy takes things up a half a star. Not to belabor it: a very workman-like, neighborhood Thai joint.