A Tryst with Thailand
1501 South St.
Don’t Miss: Sawatdee’s shellfish and anything Pad
Set snugly on the corner of 15th and South, Sawatdee is arranged as most informal Thai restaurants are: its small tables placed in neat rows, its square footage minimal, but inviting. The restaurant’s electric green walls lend it an air of modernity while antiquey trinkets and red wood–paneled chairs salute the traditional.
The menu is likewise a mashup of dishes novel and routine. We began with Por–Plah–Sod ($6.95), fresh Thai spring rolls (not fried) which envelop crabmeat, Chinese sausage, egg, tofu and vegetables. Cut into neat rounds, the rolls arrived cool and were spread in a tamarind glaze. The Chinese sausage was particularly flavorful, tasting a little like a spare rib, and the crabmeat was tender and fresh; the dish would content adventurous eaters.
A more conventional–sounding appetizer, the pan seared dumplings or Ka–Nom–Jeeb (also $6.95) came stuffed with chicken, shrimp, scallion and onion. Diners attached to the taste of more typical Chinese–style dumplings, take heed: the mixture of surf and turf in Sawatdee’s version might unnerve, and it isn’t delivered piping hot like its pork–filled cousin. We’re not sure if the lack in temperature was stylistic or a kitchen slip–up, but either way, we wouldn’t have them again.
Divided into three sections — noodles and fried rice, Gaeng Thai (curry plates) and regular entrees — the main options at Sawatdee are ample enough, but not so copious as to overwhelm. We ordered three: Pad–Kee–Mao–Gai ($10.95), Pad–Thai–Gung ($13.95) and Pad–Ka–Paro–Talay ($14.95) — “pad” means stir–fry in Thai — and found both their presentation and taste to outdo those of our appetizers.
The first, Pad–Kee–Mao–Gai, known in other circles as “drunken noodles,” was plated perfectly. The chefs rationed the bell peppers and carrots generously, serving them wellcooked, but firm. Unlike typical drunken noodles, these were not heavily sauced. Nor, for that matter, was the Pad Thai, which was not the least bit inventive (we liked this) and prepared with an underwhelming amount of grease (we liked this, too).
But where Sawatdee impressed most was in its seafood: like a bouillabaisse traveled East, the Pad–Ka–Paro–Talay was a small pile of stir–fried shrimp, scallops, mussels, squid and vegetables, seared in a chili–garlic sauce. The scallops — the smallest we have ever seen — were of excellent consistency, and not a single element tasted fishy. The four rather large mussels, served in–shell, were lovely and accessorized the dish well. If you have a taste for seafood, you won’t be disappointed.
Appealing also was Sawatdee’s small but colorful list of desserts. Our waitress recommended Thai custard in Asian pumpkin ($4.50). Looking to depart even further from the norm? Try Mung bean (golden graham) in ginger syrup ($4) and tell us how it is.