Jasmine Thai and Sushi House
No pain, no gain
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting alone in a booth at the back of Jasmine Thai. I was enjoying a quiet meal in the dim dining room, trying to decide if I liked Asian pop music as it drifted down from above, and wondering if I should convert to Buddhism. Pondering the Eightfold Path and wishing I knew what the hell that ridiculously upbeat song was about, my evening was nearly perfect. But I couldn’t stop crying.
What had brought on these tears? Was it regret over losing my virginity in a Buick? Or perhaps residual guilt from that time I voted Republican? Maybe, after almost 20 years, the poignancy of Steel Magnolias had finally dawned on me.
Uh ... no. It was No. 18 on Jasmine’s menu, the nuah salad ($8.95). Masochist that I am, I foolishly told my server to “go ahead and make it hot.” And it was hot. I tasted very little past my second bite of thinly sliced beef. There was plenty of cilantro, but it wasn’t overpowering. Beyond that, each nibble only served to sear more and more taste buds off my tortured tongue. No amount of jasmine rice alleviated my pain, and though I was a pitiful sight, solitary and weeping, I kept eating. I like to finish what I start, and despite the pain, it was damn good.
Chef Noi Zaintz, formerly of Bangkok Café, opened Jasmine Thai and Sushi House last June in The 25 Way shopping center. With brightly colored walls trimmed in gold and pools of low light, Jasmine has a sort of classed-up opium den feel—and I mean that as a compliment. With more than 60 items, plus sushi, the menu gives an equitable amount of attention to appetizers, soups, salads, entrées and an entire page of vegetarian dishes.
As far as service goes, I couldn’t have been more impressed. Here’s why: I’ve noticed that when dining solo in public, the staff usually assumes I’m lonely and dying to chat. They seem blissfully unaware of the fact that I just want to eat. Alone. At Jasmine, every server I had was detail-oriented, polite and so unobtrusive they may as well have been invisible. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my waitresses for having enough sense to know that I really don’t care if your boyfriend is in jail hoping you make enough tips to bail him out; I just want my food.
Before I subjected myself to the blistering heat of the yum nuah, I tried both types of spring rolls offered. Por piah ($3.75) was deep-fried and stuffed with somewhat bland ground chicken, cabbage, carrots and silver noodles. A side of sweet and sour sauce perked up the dish nicely. Much more tantalizing were the fresh spring rolls ($3.50). Two enormous rice-wrapped rolls and a sweet peanut sauce masqueraded as an appetizer but could have easily been a meal. Filled with ground chicken, veggies and loads of mint, basil and cilantro, they were so incredibly fragrant that smelling them was almost as satisfying as devouring them.
Masochist that I am, I foolishly told my server to “go ahead and make it hot.” And it was hot.
When it came to sushi, there were only the usual suspects: rolls, nigiri, sashimi. At $15, the combination nigiri lunch special—a four-piece California roll and five different nigiri (tuna, salmon, shrimp, yellow tail and eel)—was a bargain; filling and of at-least-average quality. The sour plum roll ($3.95) made me pucker like a spin-the-bottle enthusiast, and, correct me if I’m wrong, that’s a good thing.
Having learned my lesson, I ordered a medium-heat gaoy teow pad Thai. Good call. Toothsome noodles tossed with chicken, scrambled egg, crisp bean sprouts and rather strong scallions blended nicely with roasted peanuts. True to American preferences, it was heavily sauced. The fish sauce was exceptionally mild and refreshing. Free from that noticeable high-tide flavor, the other components made a nice showing.
In the end I decided against Buddhism—I’m an unapologetic alcoholic, and no fat guy, enlightened or not, can convince me there’s something wrong with that. Asian pop music, on the other hand, is all right by me. Kinda catchy, and I like not knowing what I’m rocking out to (I usually don’t, anyway). And Jasmine Thai? I like that even more than Asian pop.