Thai Ginger does justice to top-billed ingredient

January 12, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

When a restaurant includes a signature ingredient in the name above the door, the act amounts to a challenge to diners, almost as if the owners laid down a gauntlet. Try the namesake dish, the menu demands. We dare you.

Thai Ginger, where the potent root receives top billing, deploys the main ingredient in the Thai Ginger House Special — assorted vegetables and protein studded with matchsticks of the spicy-sweet tuber. Consider the dish a litmus test. Include too much ginger, and the flavor bludgeons other players into submission. Skimp on ginger, and fail to do justice to the title dish.

Thai Ginger delivers. The house special includes enough ginger to keep colds at bay all winter long without muscling the other components from the plate. Not too much, not too little. Just right, Goldilocks.

Other dishes deploy traditional Thai ingredients for tasty effect: basil in phad bai kaplau — onions, peppers and meat or seafood in a garlic sauce — and numerous other dishes, peanuts in many more and fiery chilies where necessary.

Although the sweet and sour chicken might be a nod to Western taste buds nurtured on Chinese takeout, the dish — with a tasty, Day-Glo red sauce dotted with pineapple and peppers — satisfies. A subtle garlic sauce elevates the phad bai kaplau, while briny oyster sauce adds depth to the gingery sauce atop the house special.

The menu includes other stars, like radh nah — wide rice noodles and broccoli finished in a bean sauce flecked with red pepper flakes — curries and traditional soups, like tom khai gai — steaming coconut milk, lemongrass and lime leaves, the flavors of Thailand condensed into a bowl.

The lineup also features noodles, fried rice and, most appealing, barbecued meat and seafood served alongside chili- and lime-based sauces and sticky rice.

Thai Ginger nets bonus points for the bright, crisp vegetables that were central in each dish during a recent lunch at the Klahanie restaurant. While dishes lacked the delicate balance of spicy, sour, sweet and salty intrinsic to Thai cuisine, the kitchen produces ample flavor and even ampler portions. A second communal serving bowl packed with rice appeared, welcome and unprompted. Another pleasant touch: the complimentary bowl of tart soup delivered with the menus.

Increase the notches on the spice scale, and Thai Ginger keeps pace. Dial up the house special to three stars on the four-star heat meter, and be thankful for the nearby waiter, ready with more rice to sop up the spicy sauce and a water pitcher to dampen the flames. Lower the temperature further with Thai iced tea or coconut, ginger or mango ice cream.

Founded in 1996, Thai Ginger continues to deliver even as new rivals dot storefronts across the Eastside. Besides the Klahanie restaurant, the Thai Ginger empire includes outposts in Bellevue, Redmond and Seattle. Mariners fans dig into the ubiquitous crowd pleaser, pad Thai, from a counter at Safeco Field.

If the Klahanie restaurant sets the standard, the chain does justice to the word hanging in a neat, serif font above the door at each eatery: ginger.

Thai Ginger

4512 Klahanie Drive S.E., In Klahanie Shopping Center

369-8233 for reservations

www.thaiginger.com

11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Friday to Saturday

$6.95-9.95 for appetizers; $9.95 -$12.95 for entrées; $4 for desserts; $8.95 – @9.95 for lunch

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

Restaurant reviews are a regular feature of The Issaquah Press. Reviewers visit restaurants unannounced and pay in full for their meals.

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