Thai breaker

Dinner for one: $10 - $20

The haunted corner. The cursed space. It’s a phenomenon of the restaurant world that we file under “P,” for paranormal. In these peculiar domains, it seems not to matter how good a restaurant is. The venture is doomed from the get-go. The space at 3262 J St., a few doors down from Club Raven, is just one of several local examples. Years ago, it was the Terra Roxa coffee house. Then it was a lunch counter. It went through several more incarnations before becoming Club Satay, a Thai restaurant. Two months ago, new owners took over. Now it’s called Thai Palace, and I will start this review off with a rather bold prediction:

If there is indeed a curse at 3262 J St., Thai Palace will break it, because it is nothing short of the best Thai restaurant in Sacramento, bar none.

I’ll admit to a certain degree of prejudice in this matter. Thai Palace is owned and operated by the Pitak family, who just happen to run one of the best Thai restaurants in San Francisco, Ploy Thai No. 2, on Haight and Ashbury. Before that, they ran Ploy Thai No. 1, where in the early 1980s they introduced a young punk living in the Tenderloin to Thai food for the first time—that young punk being me. Since then, Ploy Thai and another San Francisco restaurant, Thep Phnom, have been the gauges by which I’ve judged all Thai places, and none outside of the city have ever matched them, in my mind, until now.

That’s because the Pitaks have apparently saved their best culinary efforts for Sacramento. After our recent dinner there, I couldn’t recall a time or place where all of the elements of Thai cookery—the mélange of separate and distinct flavors, the polite and courteous service and the bargain prices—came together more splendidly.

Upon arrival, we were seated in the corner near the front window, where two enormous curved panels hung from the ceiling like ocean waves. Walls and shelves were adorned with various Thai relics and tchotchkes. After being welcomed by owner Lek Pitak, who was friendly and effervescent in a bright blue dress, we placed our order: Thai Palace wontons, beef salad, roast duck curry and garlic prawns.

The wontons were crispy, pan-fried triangles of paper-thin dough stuffed with chewy pork and shrimp and served with cool cucumber salad. Unlike the typical Western restaurant, the garnish provided at Thai Palace was actually nutritious and quite edible—shredded purple cabbage, chunks of sweet red bell pepper and thick orange slices.

Immediately prior to the restaurant’s opening in January, Pitak’s brother-in-law had flown in from Bangkok with 70 kilos of fresh Thai spices, a fact that was made gastronomically evident with the beef salad: thin slices of rare, charbroiled sirloin with chopped onions, mint leaves, dry chili, green onion and lime juice. Hot and sour, it pursed your lips before burning them. Totally righteous.

Duck curry was the evening’s masterpiece. Hearty chunks of duck, pineapple and tomato were suspended in a coconut milk-based red curry sauce that was smooth as silk. It’s the best rendition of the dish I’ve ever sampled, and that includes Thep Phnom and Ploy Thai No. 1. Only the duck curry’s grandeur prevented the salty, spicy garlic prawns, which were courageously prepared al dente, from stealing the show.

Even dessert pushed the Thai envelope: fried bananas with vanilla ice cream, with just the thinnest batter covering the piping hot bananas. It was a refreshing cap to one of the best dining experiences we’ve had lately—for just over $40 bucks for two, and that’s including the tip and a half-carafe of red wine!

And so I end this most excellent review with a second prediction: Only one thing will stop Thai Palace from continuing to occupy the formerly haunted space at 3262 J St. The space is just not big enough. Because when the rest of Sacramento finds out about Thai Palace, it’s going to be booked solid for the next year.

Best get your reservation in now.