Thai Shtick: P.G.’s Pacific Thai Cuisine does a delicious Cali-Thai thing.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I know it’s your favorite Thai dish. I love every tangy, tasty bite of this staple too. But please, whatever you do, refrain from ordering pad Thai at Pacific Thai Cuisine.
Don’t get me wrong. Their pad Thai isn’t bad; in fact, it’s pretty tasty– it’s just that their menu offers so much more to tantalize your palate.
Barely four months old, Pacific Thai Cuisine is the brainchild of restaurateur Alex Juntara and his wife, Gina. Juntara recently moved to Pacific Grove from Aptos where he was a partner at the popular Bangkok West restaurant. He also ran a now-closed American-Asian fusion restaurant in Aptos as well.
Not surprisingly, fusion food is Juntara’s forte. He describes Pacific Thai Cuisine’s menu as “Thai mixed with California style.”
For example, Juntara points out that coconut milk is a common ingredient in Thai cuisine and artichokes are very popular in California. “So we came up with [dishes like] artichoke soup and stuffed artichoke with seafood,” both of which have coconut milk as a base.
I was originally lured in by a sidewalk signboard announcing their lunch specials. A server wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with a gold elephant and an ear-to-ear smile greeted me with a diminutive bow.
He sat us in a sunny section of the room right by the gas fireplace. Fireplaces are not standard Thai restaurant décor. Then again, neither are bare brick walls, an alcove housing a floor-to-ceiling wine rack, or stained glass artwork with wine bottles and grape vine motifs. While remnants of the restaurant’s former incarnation as The Cellar Door remain, the owners have done a stellar job of adding Southeast Asian touches. Intricately carved statues sit on the mantelpiece, embroidered hangings grace the brick walls, and altars suspended almost in mid-air are lined with offerings of fruit and flowers.
For $7.50, I could pick from about a dozen different entrees comprising a couple of curries, fried rice and several noodle dishes. The soup of the day is included.
We placed our orders and within minutes, our soups arrived. The salmon-colored soup was chock-full of fresh veggies. With every lemongrass-scented mouthful, I encountered a medley of cabbage, tofu, carrots and/or mushrooms.
On a whim, I had ordered the house salad ($5.95), thinking it would be a novelty. A bed of fresh seasonal greens came topped with wonton crisps, cranberries and candied walnuts. After giving the salad a toss with the creamy peanut dressing, I made a mental note to experiment with this combo at home.
My lunch partner’s Thai basil chicken arrived as a generous mound of meat and mixed vegetables served with steamed jasmine rice. The tender slices of chicken breast were spiced with just enough heat to tingle and the dish was shot through with the heady flavor of Thai basil.
I opted for the drunken noodles (also known as pad kee mao), wide rice noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts, broccoli and onions in a spicy chili-garlic sauce. The accompanying fried tofu was lightly charred, exuding a smoky sweetness that was almost chocolatey. While the noodles were too spicy for me, I managed to extinguish the heat with a milky Thai iced tea.
A few weeks later, I returned for dinner. The restaurant was bustling on a weeknight but there were still one or two tables available.
First up were three fresh spring rolls ($7.95) stuffed with teriyaki-glazed salmon, shredded vegetables and rice noodles, drizzled with plum sauce. After dipping a roll into the accompanying peanut and chili sauces, I enjoyed the sweet and savory mélange and the fresh bite of mint, both of which were a good cover-up for the too-dry strip salmon.
There was more to look forward to, namely Thai crispy fried duckling ($15.95), half a duckling deep-fried to a crisp and doused with a luscious sweet-tart sauce, then generously sprinkled with crunchy fried noodles for a stunning presentation. I closed my eyes and crunched down on the crusty bits of flavorful meat and skin but as the meal wore on, everything from the duck to the noodles got a little soggy.
The crowning glory of the meal had to be the beautiful Pacific Thai Lotus ($15.95). A whole artichoke spilled over with giant mussels, pillowy-soft calamari, succulent scallops and sweet shrimp. Bathed in a light panang curry sauce, the briny-fresh seafood was cooked just right. With some ingenuity, this winning dish epitomized the restaurant’s strength in fusing Thai and California culinary influences.
Pacific Thai Cuisine 663 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove • 11am-3pm, 5-9:30pm Mon-Fri; 11:30am-10pm Sat-Sun. • 646-8424, www.pacificthaicuisine.com.