Tom yum yum

You know you’re living in California when you start feeling like there are too many Thai restaurants to choose from. People don’t have this problem in Kentucky. Even a decade ago, there was only one Thai place in the Midtown-downtown area, Amarin. Now, there are probably a good half-dozen. Just in the last six months, we’ve seen the opening of Chada Thai, Thai Basil and now Gaesorn Thai.

The downtown dining scene always has been a little schizophrenic. Most of the midrange restaurants cater to the office lunch crowd and don’t stay open at night, so your choices for downtown dining are usually on the higher end. That’s great if you want a night on the town, but it’s not so great for your budget. Gaesorn bucks the trend with affordable lunches and dinners, and the restaurant has committed to staying open seven nights a week.

Gaesorn Thai, across 12th Street from the Ban Roll-On building in the heart of state-worker territory, has an extensive lunch menu that’s unusual in that lunches are at a fixed price, yet the lunch menu mirrors the dinner menu. All lunches are the same price, depending on the meat ordered. Chicken, beef, pork, tofu or vegetarian options are $5.95; prawn or calamari options are $6.95. All lunch entrees come with steamed rice and a salad. Brown rice is also an option, at $1 for a side dish. All the standards are here, including pad Thai, five different curries and five different fried-rice dishes.

You’d think Gaesorn Thai would get the bulk of its business at lunch, but even on a recent Monday evening, the place was pretty full. The restaurant is unassuming, with just a small sign announcing its presence. The interior is spare without being Spartan, with a somewhat distracting note provided by two televisions broadcasting what appeared to be Thai karaoke. On the plus side, it fascinated my son, who enjoyed supplying a running commentary on the mini soap operas accompanying each song. Gaesorn has a two-item kids’ menu, buried under the soup section. Spencer opted for crispy shrimp and spring rolls, which came with rice and a soda—a bargain at $4.95.

The shrimp come as an adult-sized appetizer as well, for $6.95. They looked pretty good, but I didn’t get to taste them because the monster wouldn’t share. He left me the spring roll as a consolation prize; this vegetarian version, served with a sweet-and-sour sauce, was decent but a little greasy. We also tried the chicken satay ($5.95), which was tender with just-right char marks from the grill. This was served with toasted white bread, something I had never seen before. Gaesorn’s version of another classic, tom kha gai soup, was dead-on—richly creamy from the coconut milk, tart from the lemon grass, chock full of lean chicken and mushrooms and sprinkled with cilantro. Yum.

An entree of stir-fried beef in hot basil sauce ($6.95) was excellent. The vegetables—two kinds of pepper, onion and carrot—were perfectly cooked until tender but crisp, and the garlic chili sauce was enlivened by a lot of chopped Thai basil. The complex blend of flavors exemplified everything I love about Thai cooking.

A red curry with beef ($6.95) fared less well. Though the curry itself was delicious, the beef was noticeably chewy, perhaps the result of being cooked too long at high heat. It was a puzzling misstep because the cut of beef appeared to be identical to that in the other dish.

Gaesorn has a nice selection of beers and wine as well as some unusual nonalcoholic beverages. In addition to the usual Thai iced coffee and tea, the restaurant offers coconut, ginger and lemon-grass drinks. The lemon-grass beverage ($2) proved to be a soothing infusion, a good choice on a hot day or for washing down spicy curries. The heat levels on the dishes ordered was noticeable without being overpowering—perfect for me but a little anemic for my husband. The chef certainly will kick it up (or down) a notch if requested.

The service at Gaesorn was a little inconsistent, but friendly and fast on the whole. Our waitress did not offer to box up our leftovers, and the pacing of the food was a little rushed. The owners invested a considerable sum in handheld computerized ticket writers, which result in your drinks (and sometimes appetizers) being delivered to your table almost before you’re done ordering. The owner was extremely gracious, talking my son into eating his rice by promising him a magic trick. And he came through right before we left the restaurant, making this meal memorable for a 7-year-old. All in all, Gaesorn proves a solid addition to an already crowded field of worthy Thai restaurants in the area.