Memphis isn't exactly Los Angeles, but we do have a fair amount of choice in both number and variety when it comes to Asian food. We have Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian and Thai restaurants serving a range of authentic and Americanized dishes.
The recent expansion of Thai Bistro to Downtown broadens the choices.
Lunch was pleasant all around, from service to food to value. A small serving of the soup of the day, a choice of appetizer and an entree cost less than $10. The green curry, gang keow wan, was ordered without special instruction about the heat level, and was warm and comforting. There was enough spice in the dish to heat it up, but the coconut milk coated the chicken and the vegetables with a soothing creaminess. The sauce was used sparingly -- not exactly stingily, but with a far more restrained hand than typically found in a curry.
At dinner, we ordered the same dish, though we substituted beef for chicken and specifically asked them to bring the heat. We asked twice, in fact, yet the curry was only
slightly hotter than the dish at lunch. This was one of several perplexing issues at a mostly satisfying dinner.
Some of the confusion is because the menu is vague, in some cases, and plainly wrong in others. Some of it could simply be my ignorance of the duplicate use of dish names.
I've eaten pad kra pow at several Thai restaurants and should know that sometimes it's a rice dish with everything mixed together and sometimes it's meat and vegetables in a sauce and rice on the side. Yet another version came to us at Thai Bistro, something akin to a heartily stocked tom yum soup. It was delicious, but not all what we expected.
The "chili garlic sauce" was instead a thin broth full of bright flavors from lime, fish sauce and chilies. The bowl was filled with onion, slices of chicken, peppers and baby corn.
I think we were simply served the wrong dish when we ordered the pad khing, though, and I suspect it was pad pak. The menu says the former dish contains ginger root, garlic, onions, mushrooms and scallions. We were served a dish with no hint of ginger, full of broccoli, carrots and onion in a brown sauce with the distinct earthy flavor of miso. Pad pak is described as stir-fried assorted vegetables in a Thai brown sauce, which seems more in line with what we were given. The server was insistent it was pad khing; we decided to let it go.
An unusual dish was the Thai sweet and sour wok dish, which we tried with shrimp. It was somewhat similar to a Chinese sweet and sour, though much fresher, with a thin sauce and a plenty of pineapple chunks to provide the sweetness. We liked this very much, particularly when we added a bit of hot chili.
But there are several dishes that stand above the others, along with the green curry: the muai Thai beef, the pot stickers and the drunken noodles or pad khee mao.
There's no alcohol in the latter, which is also called drunkard's noodles and probably derives its name from the spicy carbs that would satisfy a late-night appetite. Wide noodles are stir-fried on the dry side with peppers, Thai basil, onion, bean sprouts and eggs.
The muai Thai beef is a big dish, first of all. Wide, tender strips are coated in a slightly sweet sauce and served on lettuce with a side of rice. A small dish of a spicy fish sauce cuts through and also beautifully complements the sweetness of the beef.
The pot stickers are uncharacteristically fried crisp (the menu states pan seared), and served atop a pool of red curry that you'll want to eat with a spoon. The menu says it's a basil curry sauce, which is no doubt true, at least in the fact that it contains basil. But our server told us it's the same curry that is also called gang deang, or red curry.
It whetted my appetite for more, and I'll order a red curry next time I go.
Thai Bistro serves a selection of sushi, though we didn't try any.
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
Address: 149 Madison.
Telephone: (901) 343-0303.
Hours: 10:30 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Reviewer's choices: Lunch specials ($9.45 for three courses); green curry ($12.50 with chicken at dinner); muai Thai beef ($15.95); Thai sweet and sour ($12.50 with shrimp); curry pot stickers ($5.50).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars