In chow, Thai be up, Thai be down.
Does Eugene-Springfield really need another Thai restaurant?
That's the question a lot of people are asking as Thai restaurants continue to sprout up around town like so many stalks of lemongrass.
"They're like Starbucks, aren't they?" jokes Paul Van Slyke, a co-owner of Mekala's on Franklin Boulevard, one of the earliest Thai restaurants in the area when it opened at the Fifth Street Public Market. "Twenty years ago people didn't even know what Thai food was.
`Now, the national restaurant association says it's the fourth most popular food in the U.S."
So, maybe Eugene-Springfield is not the only place with a taste for Thai, but that doesn't make the current bumper crop of restaurants any less remarkable. These days, you can hardly walk a block in the city without tripping over a bowl of Mussamun Curry or Phad See Eu noodles.
That's fine with Pismai Nissen, owner and head chef at Tasty Thai Kitchen at 29th Avenue and Willamette Street.
"The more the merrier," she says. "Thai food is everywhere now. I think it should be good for everybody. ... Everybody has different tastes."
You can look it up - not
Even the phone book can't keep up with the new restaurants. The Dex Yellow Pages list six Thai eateries, when in reality that number is closer to a dozen. Even that number isn't particularly startling - until you consider that there were only three of them five years ago.
"I guess people have just awoken to the idea of food that has lots of different flavors to offer and is healthy and is good for you." says Joshua Keim, owner of the Thai-influenced Ring of Fire and Lucky Noodle, a "Thai-Talian" restaurant that serves Thai and Italian cuisine.
There are other Thai restaurants experimenting with fusion cooking, which is probably a good sign that Thai cuisine has reached the tipping point.
At Mekala's, head chef Adrienne Van Slyke is melding coho salmon with curry and the restaurant is now pairing wines with different Thai dishes. For example, she recommends a Trimbach riesling with the Moo Palou braised pork.
Same goes for Sweet Basil, downtown Eugene's newest Thai restaurant on Pearl Street, which takes a similar approach to wine. Chefs Tony Chulacharit and Paris Pathammavong are augmenting their traditional Thai dishes with a Thai burrito, a flaming Thai tortilla roll and other novel creations.
Thai dishes are starting to pop up on menus at non-Thai restaurants. At Adam's Place, 30 W. Broadway, head chef Adam Bernstein offers Mieng Kum, a "spinach wrap" filled with ginger, dried shrimp, toasted coconut and other exotic ingredients.
"Everybody that does Thai does it differently, but there's something really nice about fresh basil, fresh mint, fresh kafir, lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal root," Bernstein says. "We all grew up on Chinese food, and it's sort of a more exotic (alternative)."
Could Thai be the new Chinese food?
Max Stabin, Sweet Basil's co-owner, believes it could be. And he says there's still room for more Thai in Eugene.
"When's it going to peak? I don't know," he admits.
Stabin, who owns two additional Sweet Basil outlets in Portland, says Eugene-Springfield's current crop of Thai restaurants is still minimal compared to the selection in Oregon's largest city, where the phone book lists 49 Thai eateries.
The real number, he says, is nearly twice that, enough to try a new Thai restaurant every week for two years.
Musical chairs, Thai style
For those attempting to keep tabs on the local Thai restaurant scene, it's getting more complicated.
One local Thai restaurant, Tararin, is located in an old pancake house at 12th Avenue and Oak Street. It has changed names enough times that some have taken to calling it "Thai-Hop."
The restaurant is a spinoff of the ever-popular Chao Pra Ya, in the Blair neighborhood. Owner Arna Khongkhaning, who goes by the name "B," says he's not worried in the slightest that there are too many Thai restaurants.
"I think it's nice for customers to have more options," he said. "Sometimes it feels like competition, but it's a nice (mix) of Thai restaurants."
And as Tararin and the owners of other Thai eateries expand their businesses, yet another Thai restaurant is taking root, this one in Springfield, where the area's first Thai eatery, Kuraya's, still holds fort on Mohawk Boulevard.
Sithat Saliphan, owner of the Siam Thai restaurant in Klamath Falls, plans to open the Star of Siam Thai Cuisine in April at 602 Main St. He says he was surprised to find there weren't more Thai restaurants in Springfield.
Just you wait.
Lewis Taylor can be reached at 338-2512 or ltaylor@guardnet. com.
Sweet Basil's Melanie Tendick serves up the restaurant's Crispy Trout Plate.
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|Title Annotation:||Food; With the taste of Bangkok all around, hot has become haute|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 18, 2005|
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