All Thai'd Up
From an unassuming strip mall in Seaside, Barn Thai delivers the spice.
Thursday, August 31, 2000
Thai food is not for everyone-although it should be. In Thai cuisine, staples like rice, noodles, fresh vegetables, assorted meats and fishes provide the foundations for beautifully balanced dishes that emphasize freshness. Vegetables are not overcooked; meat is not disproportionately overloaded--this food is good for you. And the spiciness can always be modified. What awaits is an opportunity to experience seasonings like Thai basil, mint, ginger, lemon grass, various curries, peanuts, cashews and of course those magnificent Thai chilies. If you have the gastrointestinal gumption, eat the food hot and spicy. If you are already a spicy food lover, Thai food should be in the regular rotation.
The ambiance at Barn Thai isn''t exactly classy dinner chic, but as the saying goes, you can''t judge a book by its cover. If you don''t open the book, you close your senses to new possibilities. So Shemp and I (I had to be Joe--I hate being Joe) opened the book and discovered a cornucopia of flavors that made our tastebuds, as well as our sweat glands, twist and shout.
Fiery chilies forge fresh fish, vegetables, meats and exotic spices into flavor fests. Fascinating curries, noodles, marinades and dishes with names like Laab Kai (ground chicken with lime juice, onion, mint and rice powder, served with fresh cabbage and cucumber); Goi Se Mee (crispy egg noodle with chicken, bamboo shoots, black mushroom in gravy sauce); or the Kai triplets--Kao Mun Kai, Kao Nah Kai and Kao Mok Kai--invigorate the palate and mind.
Since we order Thai food spicy, the cooling effect of homemade coconut ice cream afterward, as well as ice cold Singha beer during the meal, was essential. We chatted with the owners, Tom and Jo, a husband and wife team. They seemed grateful that our seasoned American palates could take the heat of Tom''s mom''s homegrown (in Southern California) Thai chilies. This couple commands your attention with their sincerity, humbleness and sweet spirit.
We started with a bowl of Tom Yum ($3.95), a spicy hot and sour soup with lemon grass, tomato, onions, mushrooms and chicken. It was fresh and delicious, perfectly balanced on the hot and sour flavors. I had a Deep Fried Beef appetizer ($5.95) that was fascinating. It was marinated, deep fried and served with a ramekin of perhaps the most unusual sauce I''ve ever tasted. It had only a few recognizable ingredients, yet I grew to like it. The beef, which is best torn and eaten with the hands, had the feel of good jerky. I found myself wanting to wrap a portion of it to tuck away in my saddlebag for the long journey, but there would be no "later" because we slowly devoured every bite of beef and every slurp of soup.
For entrees we chose the Seafood Curry ($9.95) and Eggplant Soy Bean ($6.25). The Seafood Curry had prawns, calamari, mussels, fish, carrots, eggplant and a green curry broth. The fish was fresh and well prepared, and the curry was balanced and flavorful, marrying the ingredients nicely to create a well-executed meal. The Eggplant Soy Bean, sauteed eggplant with pork, chilies, basil and soy bean, along with al dente carrots and onions, was dark, rich, spicy hot and ripping with flavor. There was plenty of Thai basil (one of nature''s greatest gifts) to go with tender strips of pork, and wonderful eggplant (Americans never can seem to duplicate the glory of eggplant the way it is done in Asian cuisines). Copious amounts of sticky rice along with cold Singha beer barely kept my internal inferno below the danger level. Much nose blowing and brow mopping was required.
Barn Thai''s menu is loaded with options for all tastes and is heavier than most on really exotic items. On future visits I will hop around the menu to try some of those wilder choices.
Barn Thai is located in Seaside, in what is commonly referred to as University Plaza, which is best known for housing Gold''s Gym. The restaurant itself, which is at the back of the plaza, looks like a pizza joint; six or seven white-clothed tables with glass tops, red and white batik-checkerboard patterned vinyl chairs, along with a big counter in front.
Inside, certain incongruities jump out. Framed portraits of Thailand''s royal family adorn the wall behind the counter, and soothing framed prints hang along the side walls. Yet, glaring out from this tranquillity like bowling balls on an ice rink are a couple of cheesy beer signs. The ceiling needs to be redone; in fact, the whole place could use a makeover.
Barn Thai has been surviving in this location for about three years, putting love and passion into every meal served. In spite of the odds they face--poor signage, off-the-beaten-path placement and a bookcover that leaves much to be desired--they manage to have a decent following of regular locals.
Barn Thai is an honest restaurant. It delivers more than your money''s worth and provides the folks in Seaside with a solid Thai experience. I hope someone who cares buys the University Plaza and sinks a little cash and love into upgrading it, or that Tom and Jo find a more suitable location from which they can offer their delicious homemade goodies.
1760 Fremont, Seaside. 394-2996. Open Monday-Saturday, 11am-9:30pm.