- ABOUT US
Source: Maine Sunday Telegram,
Sunday, September 29, 2002
By C.Z. Cramer
There is plenty of good Asian food in greater Portland. Finding the really good is an ongoing quest. A recent dinner at a new Thai restaurant in South Portland was one of those discoveries that keeps the search exciting.
Thai Taste occupies the site of a former neighborhood market on Cottage Road. The new owners have created an attractive dining room. Folk art and tapestries hang on the walls, and colorful weavings are spread over the tablecloths, protected under spotless glass. Silk foliage divides the diners from the kitchen, and ceramic lotus flowers hold flickering candles on the tables. Atmosphere is created with mellow lighting and soft, instrumental Asian music. These textured, traditional accents contrast nicely with the polished, diamond-patterned floor and contemporary chrome and laminate chairs.
The menu is helpfully divided into appetizer, soup, and various main course and side order categories, including a substantial vegetarian section and some house specialties.
Menu descriptions of the dishes are particularly lucid. We ordered hot sake ($3.75) and a glass of Geyser Peak sauvignon blanc ($5.25) from a wine and beer list that included Singha Thai beer ($3.75).
A starter called simply veggie dumpling ($4.95) turned out to be four crispy, fried 2-inch disks filled with hot, coarsely chopped fresh spinach. They were delicious, and the dark dipping sauce was perfumed with fresh ginger. Tod Mun Goong ($5.95) was three plump ellipses of ground shrimp and chicken dipped in egg white and then crumbs and fried crisp. These were hot and tasty, if slightly generic dim sum fare, but the sweet-sour dipping sauce was very piquant and garnished with a bit of minced cucumber. We've never before found this sauce, often served with Thai spring rolls, so assertive and interesting. Both appetizers were very attractively arranged on small plates.
Other appetizers include some perennial favorites - fresh ($4.95) or fried ($3.95) spring rolls, crab Rangoon ($4.95), and chicken satay with peanut sauce ($5.95). Also included are Thai chicken wings ($4.95) and a sampler plate for one or two ($7.95, $13.95). Of the 16 appetizers, five are vegetarian.
The five soups include the spicy lemongrass Tom Yam and coconut-based Tom Kha, each with a choice of chicken, seafood, or tofu ingredient ($2.95 - $3.95), and Thai noodle and wonton soups ($2.95).
Among eight salads were five, such as the spicy-beef Yum Nuer ($7.95), that were marked with the "touch of spicy" single chili pepper symbol.
A dozen seafood entrees as well as another five whole-fish or filet options are offered, all $14.95 to $16.95. We chose our seafood dish instead from among the half dozen curries ($8.95 to $13.95).
House special red curry arrived in a white china gratin dish, full of shrimp and plump, sweet sea scallops, both of which were just cooked through and wonderfully tender. The strips of sweet red pepper and snow peas and paper-thin, artfully notched slices of carrot were exceptionally crisp and good. The curry sauce had nuance and layers of distinct flavor including a light touch of coconut milk and one-chili heat that developed subtly in the mouth. The curry was sitting on a bed of lightly steamed fresh spinach. This dish was way ahead of the average red curry.
We felt compelled to try one of the Pad Thais from the noodle category ($6.75 - $11.95). Our delightful waitress, who had an encyclopedic familiarity with the menu and who used no pad or pen, recommended the version with chicken and shrimp. Thai Taste's kitchen has elevated this popular and ubiquitous favorite into a higher state of being. The shrimp were tender, and the good-size pieces of white chicken breast were excellent. The noodles were dressed with stir-fried egg and bean sprouts and tossed with minced peanuts. Everything was distinct and crisp, and there was no pile-up of limp vegetables you sometimes find hidden in Pad Thai.
Because there were three of us out that evening, we were able to try an additional entree. From the chef's specialties category, we selected ginger crispy duck ($15.95). The chef justly deemed this a specialty, because it was excellent. Half a roast duck had been boned and chopped into bite-size pieces - fabulous, crispy skin intact - that sat among stir-fried mushrooms, red peppers, and slivers of onion. The dark black bean sauce had been further livened up with fresh ginger. Here was another memorable flavor parade, this time showcasing delicious pieces of duck.
The platter was garnished with parallel rows of overlapping paper-thin slices of tomato and cucumber that had been made to stand at a rakish angle. The garnishes on everything, such as the tomato-skin rose that decorated our dumplings, were skilled works of edible sculpture.
Other seafood entrees include jumbo shrimp in tamarind sauce with broccoli, "mussel mania" in chili garlic sauce, and "shrimp love scallop" with ginger and vegetables. There is a spicy battered whole fish or filet with red pepper and basil, salmon baked with curry and egg, and broiled whole fish or filet with spicy tamarind sauce.
The vegetarian section ($6.75 to $8.95) includes tamarind tofu with vegetables, vegetable fried rice, a vegetable saute with garlic sauce, and a fried and spicy dish fascinatingly named "Evil Prince tofu."
Assorted fried rice dishes offer a choice of tofu, chicken, pork, duck, shrimp, squid, or scallop ($6.75 to $12.95). There are red, green, yellow, and other curries.
When our plates had been cleared and our leftovers packed into paper cartons, we all had cups of hot, fragrant Thai tea, which tasted of star anise with a slightly smoky edge ($1.25). We shared a dish of ginger ice cream ($3.95) - pure white and filled with tiny bits of minced crystallized ginger that seemed the perfect finish to this meal. Other desserts include coconut ice cream, Thai custard, fried bananas and fried ice cream ($3.95 to $4.95). Other beverages include Thai sweet or unsweetened iced tea and coffee ($1.95).
After the dishes we sampled on this visit, we committed to return as soon as possible to continue our journey through the exotic menu. Our banquet-like feast for three, including tax, was $86.90.
Thai Taste charmed us because it did what many do well quite a bit better. We found the seasonings, sauces, and combinations of vegetables all to be distinct within each dish and thoughtfully chosen. Ingredients were wonderfully fresh. Service and presentation were expert. And everyone who seated and served us in this attractive restaurant was friendly and knowledgeable.
Audience welcomes letters from Taste & Tell readers. Letters should be brief and include full name, address and a telephone number. All letters may be edited. Address letters to Margaret Walter, features editor, Maine Sunday Telegram, P.O. Box 1460, Portland 04104
HOW IT RATES
|Food:||**** (4 stars)|
|Atmosphere:||**** (4 stars)|
|Service:||**** (4 stars)|
The bottom line: New on the local Asian food scene, Thai Taste is distinctive in a competitive field. The kitchen is turning out fresh, flavorful, authentic dishes that are expertly prepared, gorgeously garnished, and served by a hospitable staff.