I brought a friend with me to eat at Tawan Thai, a fairly new place at the corner of Zuni and Wyoming. Rebecca, my companion, had never eaten Thai food, save one box of pad Thai she bought from the deli at Wal-Mart. Shock of shocks; she didn’t like it. I was determined to turn her around on Thai cuisine, so off we drove.
The parking lot is an odd shape, which forced us to circle around once or twice before making indoors. We settled into a couple of padded stools along the window bar. After enjoying our view of the heavy traffic outside for a few moments, co-owner Harris Nonnapha approached us to take our order.
Seeking out food that could completely erase Rebecca’s sordid memory of the bad pad Thai, I decided on the “golden bag” appetizer ($5.95) and tom kha soup with seafood instead of chicken per my humble request ($3.95 small, $7.95 large). I also ordered a green papaya salad ($7.25) and the house special, “chicken volcano” ($12.95).
Harris brought us ice waters, which we appreciated, but we realized later that he forgot to ask us if we wanted anything else. We probably would have gotten other drinks, but no use cryin’ over spilled Dr. Pepper. The uneven start to our meal continued when we were presented with two disappointing dinner salads. It's not that they were bad; it’s just that they were laced with Italian dressing. We didn't quite know what to make of it.
Papaya salad came next, which I didn’t like one bit. Sure, the shredded green papaya was fresh and the tomato and green beans were ripe—but too many chilis and an overwhelming amount of fish sauce killed the salad. At least the small radish star that garnished the dish was pretty.
The golden bag appetizer arrived. Happily, our plate of fried wontons filled with cream cheese, crab meat and cilantro was an absolute treat, and its side dipping sauce was a sugary, vinegary delight.
Our soup came duly served in a metal tureen heated by a small flame. This turned out to be the magic dish that brought Rebecca to the Promised Land (or “seeing things the Jenn way,” whichever you wanna call it). She was tickled pink by the rich, silky coconut broth cut with tangy lime juice, earthy straw mushrooms and thick slices of green onion. They were generous with the seafood, and even took pains to make sure it was tender by scoring a diamond pattern onto the squid. Though she's free with the lime juice, Tawan Thai’s cook/co-owner Monica Nonnapha does not use lemongrass stalks or lime leaves, which made the soup easier to slurp down.
The main course was served flambéed—a nice effect, but it left a noticeable grain alcohol aftertaste with the first few bites. For this dish, grilled chicken was laid over a bed of steamed cabbage, broccoli and carrot coins, all served in lacy foil. Plates of formed jasmine rice were served on the side. Flecked with green herbs, the meat was a sunny yellow color, which Harris and Monica told us was the result of seasoning it with turmeric.
The service got progressively slower as the meal went on. A man seated behind me was obviously agitated as he got up to pay his check, but I felt like giving them a break since the husband-and-wife team were the only employees at the time.
Harris brought our check before we had a chance to tell him we wanted dessert. It was a good thing we stubbornly ordered anyway, because the fried sweet banana ($4.95) was magically delicious, wrapped in delicate wontons. The fried ice cream with strawberry ($3.95) appeared with honey instead of strawberry sauce, but the crisp, sweet batter and the soft vanilla ice cream were fine (maybe even better) the way they were.
There was a weird moment when I had to go outside and around the corner to use the “little writer’s room,” but I was no worse for wear when I paid the tab and stuck around for a minute to yak with the owners. They were nice people, so I told them about Rebecca's god awful experience with the Wal-Mart pad Thai. Harris responded with a devastated look and shook his head “no” for about a minute straight.
“This was better!” said Monica, and I agreed.
The Alibi Recommends:
• Golden bag appetizer
• Tom kha with tofu, chicken or seafood
• Fried sweet banana
Tawan Thai Cuisine, 200 Wyoming SE, 265-7199. Hours: Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Sun. Price range: inexpensive to moderate. No booze, credit cards accepted.