Cafe Reviews

Power Thai

"Isn't the Thai trend over?"
The question comes from a sincere associate, one who really enjoys a good culinary craze, and I know what she means. It is certainly true that Thai food has been part of the recherche restaurant scene for at least the past half decade. Anyone with pretentions to culinary cachet has already crunched a little Mee Krob and twirled a little Pad Thai.

I think, though, that Thai dining is more than a trend. This is a vibrant, varied, fresh, affordable, healthful and extremely interesting cuisine that has every reason to flourish beyond the fad stage. The best proof of this is that, despite the reality of restaurant market saturation, the number of Thai restaurants just keeps on growing.

Mexican, Italian, and Chinese cuisines all were once new trends in this country. With approximately two dozen Thai restaurants in the Phoenix area already, we may well be witnessing the emergence of the next cuisine with major satay-ing power. Thai marches on.

If The Siamese Cat is the first Thai restaurant you ever visit, you may have second thoughts before actually walking inside. This restaurant, you see, is located in a shopping center named Pet Food Plaza. The anchor tenant is called the Pet Warehouse, and right next to this is the Siamese Cat. "My Lord," you may be forgiven for thinking, "what do these people eat?" Well, people who dine at the Siamese Cat eat some of the most consistently appealing Thai food in town. Having extensively sampled this particular menu, I can confidently report that this cookstaff doesn't miss a step. Dishes are assertively flavored without being overly heat-aggressive; daring and diverse without being overly dramatic; refined without being rarefied or fussy.

Among its versions of the most familiar Thai fare, the Siamese Cat turns out a perfectly spiced peanut sauce for Satay (barbecue meat on a skewer), the most meat-generous Mee Krob (sweet crispy rice noodles) in town, a spectacularly savory Pad Thai (sauteed rice noodles with vegetables, meat and Thai spices), and a compellingly luscious Lahb Neua (beef cooked with lime juice and spices, served upon request with raw cabbage leaves for use as edible shells).

Dishes you may not have tried before, but worth wetting the whiskers with here, are Poh Haeng (shrimp and squid stir-fried with Thai herbs) and Kai Yud Sai (a Thai omelet filled with a mouth-watering mixture of ground pork, tomatoes, onions and peas). The Siamese Cat version of coconut ice cream, actually a true sherbet, is a wonderful refreshment at meal's end and is not to be missed.

Another pleasing part of this restaurant's personality is its soothing ambiance. Although some other top Thai restaurants in this town come on with dramatic contemporary designs, the Siamese Cat somehow manages to turn a simple whitewash job and a linoleum floor into a peaceful retreat. In part, the soothing accents come from peach linens, Thai music drifting in the background, and the subtle use of religious art and a false temple portico above the kitchen window.

Ultimately, it's the sort of place where a well-fed cat might just curl up and take a comfortable nap.

RATING: insert graphics 4 Thai stix

Tuptim Thai Restaurant is a "looker." Suave charcoal grays, rich ruby reds and bright shiny blacks dominate the color scheme. The feel is ultra-chic, as if some dramatically dark art gallery is about to mount an exhibit of pinspot-lighted modern Asian art.

The coolness of this impression is immediately mitigated by the service staff, however, which offers a welcome as friendly as all git-out. Although the restaurant is moderately busy during a recent visit, the hostess graciously indicates several tables from which we may choose. After we are seated, the restaurant owner comes over to effuse cordiality and place a sign on our table promoting "the Pirates," a shrimp curry with pineapple dish that he promises "will be the new favorite."

As things turn out, my favorite impression at Tuptim has little to do with the Pirates or any other dish that we order. I leave the restaurant most fond of the owner himself, who performs one of the most responsible and sincere acts of complaint-handling that I've ever encountered. This takes place when I reject the restaurant's Pad Thai, which tastes to me like it has been cooked in rancid oil.

After profusely thanking me for calling this situation to his attention, he collects the offending dish and heads to the kitchen. A few minutes later he returns with a very polite and sophisticated analysis of the probable cause of my complaint. Although he believes the oil to be fresh, he is aware that the cottonseed oil the restaurant uses is particularly sensitive to high heat and foreign flavors. He has noticed an unnatural sticky residue in the wok in which the dish has been cooked, indicating that the Pad Thai has been cooked too long in a pan that should not have been used.

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Steven Weiss