Thursday, May 12, 2016

Journalism Student Explores Restaurant Reviews

by Chi-Nhan Vo

Editor's Note: This semester, journalism student Chi-Nhan Vo chose to do the Unfamiliar Genre Project with a focus on restaurant reviews.  MAS Journalism is pleased to publish his final centerpiece, a review of a favorite local restaurant.

Thai Dish: A Seminary Favorite

Chef and owner Manos Jantarasri serves up traditional Thai favorites in a small but homey space.

It’s a quiet Thursday evening in Mount Angel, as most evenings are: cold and rainy, just begging for a warm meal to bring it together. Thankfully, there’s a perennial favorite next door in Silverton’s Thai Dish, a cozy, unassuming hole in the wall that’s played host to years of hungry seminarians. Some seminarians and I decided to take a closer look at the restaurant that’s so often recommended to hilltop newcomers.

Thai Dish is the work of Mr. Manos Jantarasri and his family, who moved to Oregon and opened his restaurant in 2001. Mr. Jantarasri had worked and studied at various other restaurants in California, where he’d first come in the US, to learn how to conduct a business.

He gives all the credit for his love and skill for cooking, however, to his mother, a journey that he’d begun long before he’d come stateside. “Since I was 8, everything she did, I watched and I did it too,” he says, reflecting back on his childhood in Thailand with a smile. “I was always asking questions. It was hard work, very tiring, but I liked it.”

This homegrown, down-to-earth background seems to be the driving force behind the restaurant’s creative energy, including the d├ęcor. Many newer Thai restaurants in Portland are lavishly decorated from floor to ceiling with ornate paintings and bronze and gold statues. Thai Dish, on the other hand, is rather humble in comparison: its modest space is peeling with paint in the corners, and the hallway and restrooms around the back aren’t much more impressive, dim, cramped and scarred with discoloration.

However, its walls and tables are collaged with pictures and clippings of Thai people and places, mixed in with crayon drawings collected from the restaurant’s younger patrons through the years. When these sights come together with the wonderful sounds of relaxed conversation and sizzling plates, it’s clear why such a place has become a town fixture. “[Since I first opened] many people have moved to this town. It’s very safe, good for kids,” says Mr. Jantarasri. “Many of my customers are families.”

The food itself exemplifies the same sense of pleasant intimacy. “A lot of other restaurants, they . . . change to a more American taste,” notes Mr. Jantarasri as he describes the sweeter, saltier palate of American-oriented cooking. “I try and make very traditional Thai style.” The menu isn’t short by any means, filled with all the old Thai standbys of curry, rice, stir-fry, and noodles, and a fair variety of drinks, appetizers and desserts, but it also isn’t needlessly long: there’s more than enough to be able to pick and choose without being overwhelmed. Most dishes also have the option of choosing a degree of spice, anywhere from barely-noticeable to fire-in-the-mouth. There’s also usually a choice of meat, all of which are delicious, although the seafood options are rather pricey.

Service at Thai Dish is very friendly, doing a good job of checking in through the meal without being overbearing. Only one server is usually operating at a time, though, so service can be somewhat slow depending on how full the restaurant is. Orders do come out surprisingly quick, though, just enough to get settled and comfortable before the plates arrive.

A number of visits allowed us to sample through a good portion of the menu. As in other southeast Asian cuisines, a soup is often the first portion of a meal, most famously the spicy and sour Tom Yum. Thai Dish’s version comes out on an impressive flaming burner that keeps it warm and turns eyes as it makes it way to the table. The broth, while not short on sour citrus flavor, is a little less complex than other restaurants’, but goes down easily without sticking heavily in the throat as the usual Tom Yum does.

Curry is usually the first dish that comes to mind with Thai food, and is a great measure of the restaurant’s quality as a whole. The red curry at Thai Dish is nothing short of amazing, boasting a host of vegetables like eggplant, green pepper, and bamboo that manage to retain individual taste and texture amongst the rich, flavorful curry. The smell, too, hints enticingly at the curry’s complex flavors without hanging pungently in the air. If anything, the only problem with it is that it’s a rather small portion relative to the price: even including the rice, a college-aged male could down two helpings without much trouble.

Another centerpiece of the Thai restaurant is sweet, silky-smooth Thai Iced Tea, which Thai Dish does quite well: it’s definitely on the sweeter end of the spectrum, but it’s not overpowering, and the finish is relatively light. The presentation of layers of red and orange under the cover of perfectly-sized ice is quite appealing as well. The smaller size is proportionally expensive, which is a great excuse for upgrading to the almost-too-large size.

Stir-fried dishes are some of the restaurant’s most popular, and for good reason, as with the fried rice which exemplifies traditionally complex, multifaceted Thai flavors like savory, sour, and sweet: every bite has something new, bursting with chaotic flavors that somehow form a cohesive whole. The uneven textures are somewhat jarring, though: large slices of tomato and tiny bits of onion, peas and carrots don’t mesh well together. Both the satisfying pad Thai and crispy rad nah noodles are favorites of ours, which have a more unified taste and texture that is no less delicious. There’s no more satisfying sight to greet hungry eyes than a plate of rad nah, a deep-fried crown of golden perfection and laden with earthen greens and browns. All of these are fair portion sizes for a hungry seminarian, and nothing at Thai Dish disappoints for taste.

“Maybe I am going to retire soon, take a break,” reflects Mr. Jantarasri, rubbing his shoulder as he thinks back on the years of hard work he’s put into establishing Thai Dish. “But my customers keep [coming] back,” he says wryly. With such a homelike taste of Thailand in the middle of Silverton, Oregon, who’s to blame them?

Thai Dish
209 N Water St # A, Silverton, OR 97381
(503) 873-8963

Hours: 11-10 Sat & Sun, 11-9 all other days
Environment: small, but cozy and down-to-earth dining room
Service: quick and competent, although prone to bottlenecks
Taste: great range of traditional Thai flavors
Options: plenty for vegetarians, especially with tofu, although ubiquity of eggs makes it tougher for vegans
Price: mid-range, not especially cheap or too expensive

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