Phuket Thai delights with nicely done favorites
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
It's a small, pleasant, yellow-toned room decorated with swirling, vivid artwork, both colorful and serene, by Penny Kaiman Rayer. Each of the 15 or so tables is outfitted with a red rose and a candle in a frosted glass. They do a brisk lunch and dinner business.
Phuket is an island off southwest Thailand, linked to the mainland by a short bridge. Friends who have visited there rave about the beautiful white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. Phuket is a favorite spot for tourists, a far cry from the primitive jungle villages you see in some parts of Thailand.
Although the array of appetizers offered is pretty standard, they are done quite well. Sa-teh more often spelled satay locally is grilled chicken or beef, served with creamy-spicy-sweet peanut sauce ($6.95). Several tables around me during a recent visit were enjoying this most popular of Thai appetizers.
The Phuket Stuffed Chicken Wings ($7.95) are a pleasing combination of ground meat, glass noodles and various spices stuffed into a chicken wing, lightly breaded and deep-fried. They are also served with the peanut sauce. Mee Krob ($6.25), thin crispy noodles with slices of tofu, bean sprouts and onions, in a sweet and sour sauce, is a bit too sweet for my taste, but is quite popular. I love the shrimp rolls ($6.25), similar to Vietnamese summer rolls: shrimp, rice noodles, lettuce, cucumbers and mint rolled in a thin and chewy rice-paper wrapper.
Miss A's favorite soup, Tom Yum, which she ordered with shrimp ($3.95), also can be made with chicken ($3.75) or seafood ($4.25). This is a spicy soup flavored with lemon grass, ginger and other flavorings. They also serve Tom Kha, a ginger soup (same prices as the Tom Yum) in a light coconut-milk broth. Som Tum, ($6.25) the shredded green papaya salad, refreshingly complements the spicy flavors quite well, although here it was not as tangy as it is in some restaurants.
Thais have a special knack for noodle dishes. Paht Thai, at $7.25 to $9.75, depending on meat choice, is Phuket's version of Thai fried noodles thin noodles fried with fish sauce, palm sugar, scrambled egg, green onions and garnished with Chinese parsley, bean sprouts and chopped roasted peanuts. My favorite noodle dish, Phat-see-ewe, was not on the menu, but when I asked for it, they gladly prepared it for me. Thick, chewy noodles with tender slices of juicy beef, fresh broccoli and scrambled egg, with delightfully soy-laced flavors. If you haven't tried it, order it.
We ordered Phat Katiem ($7.25 to $8.75) scallops wading in a pool of garlic-infused coconut-cream sauce, accented by mushrooms and black pepper. These matched well with the flavorings, allowing the subtle sweetness of the plump scallops to emerge. The seafood with black bean sauce ($9.95) was touched with subtle ginger flavor, and included calamari, shrimp, fish and scallops, along with bell peppers and straw mushrooms. Miss A made me order it mild, although I prefer it spicier.
At Phuket, you can order your favorite Thai curry at any heat level from mild to incendiary, priced from $7.25 to $9.75. Red curry, Kaeng Phet Daeng, features bamboo shoots or eggplant with your choice of meat. Green curry also features eggplant along with fresh basil, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. The yellow curry offers potato, carrots, onions and coconut milk.
Phat Khing ($7.25 to $8.75) was the only disappointment among the dishes we tasted. This gingered string-bean dish was uninspired, seeming more like a chicken dish with a few green beans instead of the other way around.
Phuket is doing a fine job, and after five years at the McCully location, look for one opening in Mililani about the time this review goes to print. What makes your visit here extra special is that the entire staff is gracious and always smiling.
Reach Matthew Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.