Find authentic flavors at Similan Thai Cuisine

October 6, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Thai cuisine seeks to balance spicy, sour, sweet and salty, using whiffs of lemongrass and kaffir lime to pack the flavor of Southeast Asia into each bite. Similan Thai Cuisine, a new arrival at the just-opened Overlake Center, is skillful with the pillars of Thai cooking.

A slick space filled with fountains and a forest of bamboo belies the strip mall setting. A promising list of appetizers starts the meal on the right note.

Packed with lettuce leaves, basil sprigs and tofu chunks, the sprightly fresh rolls were the ideal vehicles for a peanut dipping sauce, lush and almost as thick as Jif. Inside the paper-thin rice wrappers, greens and springy vermicelli noodles were nestled alongside crispy bits for a surprising — and welcome — crunch.

A plate of crab puffs moved beyond the usual takeout crab Rangoon. Inside the crackling, fried wonton skin awaited a molten center of cream cheese and crab — imitation, yes, but tasty nonetheless.

The extensive collection of entrées delivers after the strong selection of starters.

The noodle dishes are satisfying, from the rad nha — wide rice noodles and broccoli finished in a bean sauce flecked with red pepper flakes — to the phad kee mao, a fragrant tangle of rice noodles, bamboo, basil, chili, onion and tomato. Noodle dishes can be accessorized with beef, chicken, seafood or tofu. In the phad kee mao, a special request for scallops resulted in mollusks done to the perfect point of doneness.

From the fried rice selections, pick the pineapple variety redolent with curry and studded with cashews, peas and raisins. Other, seldom-seen choices include Dungeness crab tucked into fried rice and another variety juiced up with sweet chili paste. Most of the rice dishes can be complemented with beef, chicken, tofu, or calamari, prawns, scallops or a seafood combination.

The menu also includes a strong slate of curries, from the traditional green and red to appealing duck and prawn options.

Soups, including the classic tom yum, round out the menu. A bubbling pot of tam kah — a soup constructed atop a coconut-milk broth — attracted longing glances from across the dining room.

Similan Thai Cuisine also includes a full dessert menu, a rarity for most suburban Asian restaurants. In addition to sorbet and fried ice cream, desserts include ambitious offerings, such as black rice pudding and a seasonal combination of mango and sticky rice.

The expansive dinner menu treads beyond Thailand. Expect to see Chinese takeout selections, such as General Tso’s chicken and pot stickers, amid the Thai curries and tom yum soup.

The affordable lunch menu edits the menu to a handful of selections, though the affable servers allow diners to order from either menu at lunchtime.

Similan Thai Cuisine had a few wobbles. The promised hot rating on the menu felt more like summer in Seattle than summer in the Sahara. Opt for the so-called “authentic-hot” level for a sweat-inducing, lip-tingling burn. Crisp vegetables and, inexplicably, corkscrew pasta bobbed in wan broth in the complimentary cup of soup brought with the menus. But helpful servers and a skilled kitchen staff make up for the occasional bumps.

Similan Thai Cuisine juggles the spicy, sour, sweet, salty combination with a singular result: tasty.

Similan Thai Cuisine

In Overlake Center, 5704 E. Lake Sammamish Parkway S.E., Suite 100

677-8159 for reservations

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

$5-13 for appetizers; $8-17 for entrées; $4-7 for desserts

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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