Thai Garden Review

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Getting your Thai Fix
by Daniel Gray
photos by Jessica In

Good Thai food is like an acrobat walking on a tightrope. For example, take the basic Pad Thai. It needs to balance the sweetness of palm sugar with the slight bitterness of tamarind, the sour pungency of fish sauce, the tartness of lime juice, the crunchiness of peanuts, the egg, the tofu, bean sprouts, pepper and it needs to do all this while not making the rice noodles too soft, dry, or oily. Thai Orchid, which was located in the current location of Thai Garden, was renowned for its authentic Thai cuisine but its atmosphere was a bit outmoded. The owners decided to give the place a complete makeover and in the process changed the name. So the big question is: does the food live up to its predecessor's?

Kinda. Some of dishes remained the same as before, but I felt that the flavor has been changed a bit to please the Korean palate. The bright flavor of the Thai bird peppers were replaced with the Korean go-chu-jang, the Pad Thai had more tamarind then I previously recall, less lemon grass was used in many of the dishes, and my favorite Thai waiter is no longer there. (This maybe due to the availability of these ingredients in winter.) But the renovations have given he place a much needed facelift, so you have to take the good with the bad. Now even though it's not the same as before, the food will sate your appetite for green curry until you can take a vacation to Thailand.

To start, Thai Garden has excellent satay. The chicken is moist and pairs well with the peanut sauce. My group of friends and I had the Thai Basket and the shrimp and the spring rolls were simply lackluster in comparison. Oh, and a great appetizer is the Larb Gai- ground chicken with spices and lime juice. It's healthy and really fun to eat because you wrap the chicken in a lettuce leaf. The Yum Woon Sen- the spicy noodle salad was really spicy and had a nice zing from the cilantro and lime juice.

The soups are ample enough to be a meal and I really enjoyed the subtle, Tom Kha Goong-the prawn and coconut soup. The soup balanced the different flavors of shrimp, lime juice, galangal, and vegetables well; it was a nice contrast to all the spicy Korean food I normally eat. I would also recommend the curry dishes. I really liked the Paneng Gai- a spicy chicken dish with kaffir leaves and the green vegetable curry (Gaeng Keaw-wan Pak Ruam) which had a diverse mix of vegetables. The pad Thai wasn't too bad. And the desserts such as the Guey Buat Shee-bananas in coconut milk and the mangos with sticky rice were a big hit at our table.

The Poo Pad Pong Garee, sauteed crab with curry powder, used to be one of my favorite dishes at Thai Orchid. This current incarnation failed to impress. The yellow curry sauce seemed a bit like the packaged curry bricks so the normal pleasure of picking out the flavorful meat from the shells seemed a bit too much like work. Nor was l impressed with the beef and basil dish (Nua Pad Bai Kraprao). The dish simply lacked that sweet fragrant punch of Thai basil because they used Italian basil which was powerless against the garlic and chilies in the dish.

The service was friendly and there are a couple people that can speak English. The restaurant's renovations has made the restaurant brighter through it's clean lines and removal of extraneous ornamentation.

Overall, the new Thai Garden has excellent value with dishes that run from 8 to 22,000 won. It's a great place to grab a curry and a Singha beer after a long day at work; but if you're looking for authentic Thai, I recommend you make your vacation plans in advance.

Food **
Value****
Service ***
Atmosphere***

Location: Itaewon Dong
Style: Thai
Hours: 12:00-10pm
Phone: 792-8836

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