Tower of satay

Just back from a house-hunting trip to the Texas Hill Country, I realized again how very lucky Californians are and how much we take for granted. I spent three days investigating a town of 20,000 that had none of the following: Thai food, sushi, Starbucks, Target or hummus in the grocery store. I’m not sure how I am going to live without any of these things. But, to be fair, I did find a cute little place out there in the land of barbecue that served cappuccino and Italian panini.

We love Thai food out here, that’s for sure. Up here in Nevada County, where we’ve lived for the past two years, our one and only Thai restaurant lost its lease about eight months ago. When the guy reopened recently, he refused to give the local paper an interview because, he said, he needed less business, not more. It was true. I’ve tried to eat there several times in the last week or two, and I can never get in the door.

There are so many Thai restaurants in Sacramento now that it’s hard to keep track of them. Apparently, there’s enough business to support them all—even in the case of Chada Thai Cuisine and Taste of Thai, which sit nearly next door to each other on Broadway, just down from Tower Records.

Chada Thai, with a gleaming marble-look floor and tastefully appointed tables, is a pleasant refuge from the hustle and bustle. One wall is painted pink, which is not as scary as it sounds. The other wall is one long mirror, opening up what would be a long, narrow space otherwise. A pretty flock of mirror-encrusted dragons adorns one wall, and fresh roses on each table provide a classy touch. Attractive blue-and-white ceramic dinnerware and gold-rimmed glasses provide further evidence of attention to detail.

There are no big surprises on Chada Thai’s menu, and all the standards we tried were executed with flair and a surprising amount of heat. The menu notes that you can request mild, medium, hot or Thai hot. I specified spicy, and that’s what we got; all the dishes were hot enough to make me start hiccuping. We started with an appetizer of satay gai ($5.95), which was tasty with or without the accompanying peanut sauce. The chicken strips were lightly grilled and flecked with bits of minced lemongrass and were very tender.

We also tried what may be my new favorite dish, lahb gai ($7.95). I first came across a beef version of this salad in a cookbook, and I make it all the time. Chada’s version uses minced chicken with mint, lemongrass, onion, cilantro and toasted ground-rice powder, tossed in a sauce of lime juice, fish sauce and chili pepper, among other things, and served on a bed of lettuce. This may be the perfect summer dish—spicy, cool and filling without being overwhelming. Plus it’s low-fat, without any of that pesky guilt engendered by chowing down a lot of coconut milk in a curry.

An order of spicy noodles with chicken ($7.95) also satisfied. The wide noodles were tender and chewy, just as they should be, and melded perfectly with the chicken in a spicy garlic sauce enlivened with bits of carrot, green beans and lots of basil. Almost every rice, noodle or curry dish can be ordered with your choice of protein. Tofu is $6.95; chicken, beef and pork are $7.95; prawns are $9.95; a mixture of prawns, calamari and scallops is $12.95; and salmon, catfish and red snapper are $12.95. We also tried kang dang, or red curry, with chicken. The curry was expertly blended to provide sweet notes of coconut milk and Thai basil mellowing the heat; zucchini, bell peppers and bamboo shoots provided some textural interest.

Vocanoe prawns ($12.95) were listed as one of the house specials. This dish was the only disappointment of the evening. What was described as grilled marinated prawns proved to be some lonely looking shrimp skewered with cubes of pineapple and served with peanut sauce. They displayed none of the hoped-for grilled taste or even any grill marks. Perhaps this dish should be listed as an appetizer; it definitely did not appear substantial enough to serve as an entree.

It’s certainly debatable whether Sacramento needs another Thai restaurant. But Chada Thai is a worthy addition in any case and is well worth seeking out. Go to a movie at Tower, pig out at Chada and finish the evening at Starbucks. What could be better?