I don’t like chains. I just don’t- the branding, the conformity, the ick of it all. The bored employees in poly unis, the wall kitsch, the… flair. Hate flair.
That said, I adore Tara Thai. It’s a chain, but I’ve been to two locations and they are definitely not the same place. Overall, they do such a good job with the “under the sea” decor, the fresh orchids on the tables, the delicious food, and hiring wait staff who are so fantastic you feel like you are eating at a little place down the street that only you know of.
Plus the staff at my favorite location in Rockville actually is mostly Thai, which is huge- you wouldn’t eat at an Indian place staffed by Norwegians would you? No, of course not!
I should say here that I’ve been to Thailand and have a basis for comparison. I spent about 2 weeks there, not nearly long enough, several years ago. I ate stupid amounts of food daily; the Thais around me laughing at the idiot ferengi eating their chili peppers with gusto. Their whiskey is really awful, but when I won a bottle in a drinking contest I carried it through customs with pride.
The best meal I had in Thailand was pad thai made in a shack on a back street in Bangkok; flies buzzing round as I shoveled the hot noodles, chicken and shrimp into my mouth. Another memorable dish was tom ka gai soup with coconut, galanga and chili, which I had on Phi Phi Island. My dining companion for the evening, a Japanese university student I had talked into joining me, cried from the heat of the soup, which made me laugh like a drain. I love spicey food.
Anyway, today I was trying to get Karoline bike shopping and before any kind of shopping it was imperative that we eat, because shopping on an empty stomach is always a bad idea. So we headed to Tara Thai.
The serving dishes are very eclectic. I love them- the star shaped plates are just fun. We ordered satays and spring rolls.
In honor of Robyn I took an “innards” shot. The innards in this case are mostly glass vermicelli, cabbage and carrots. If there were shrimp, I missed them, but overall it didn’t matter. The crispy shell and vinegary chili sauce were delicious.
My grandmother, who passed away last June at 95, had a meal with us at Tara Thai a few years ago. She loved the chicken satays– there she was, with her manicured nails, neatly coiffed hair, in a twinset, pearls and skirt, gnawing on chicken on a skewer and exclaiming over the peanut chili sauce. One of my favorite memories of her by far- she was never afraid to try new things.
Then there was the pad thai ($7.50) I’d been jonesing for since the words “We should have lunch at Tara Thai” came out of Karoline’s mouth earlier in the day. Light on the shrimp, which they devein unlike at Neisha, but the dish was freshly made; the noodles were slightly vinegary, generously sprinkled with chopped peanuts, and generally delicious. Rice noodles are my favorite.
We also had sen mee gai– chicken with rice noodles in a chili sauce- the lunch special is $6.50. We laughed at the chili pepper next to the dish’s name that indicates spiciness when we ordered, but one bite later we stopped laughing. Yikes. The mild brown color of the sauce had fooled us!
In addition to some very nice fruit juices and cocktails, the menu includes silly things like Black Forest coffee (mocha espresso with Chambord). The desserts range from just right (Thai iced coffee ice cream, mango and sticky rice, etc.) to “oh no they didn’t!” (black and white chocolate cake).
Here’s the receipt shot (another TGWAE staple): $33 for two people- two appetizers, two main dishes and 3 iced teas. There were leftovers, so I have a tasty lunch for tomorrow as well.
In my humble estimation the food at Tara Thai is as close to a shack on the back streets of Bangkok as you can get (or would want to) without worrying about health code violations. It’s served in a genuinely pleasing way, in a nice place, by people who know what it’s supposed to taste like.
And that, my friends, is good enough for me.