THE DINING REPORT – RED ONION THAI 

It Will Bring Tears Of Happiness To Your Eyeballs

I don’t really know what to say about our recent dinner at Red Onion Thai.IMG_2805 We had a dinner there about two and a half years ago, and at that time I talked about the owner Aut “Dang” Boonyakamol’s previous Portland area restaurants, his tasteful décor, and his unusual specialty menu of Northern Thai dishes. This time out, four people repeated the Red Onion dinner, with three newbies and a special guest, many of us ordered the same things as last time, and while everyone was warned that this is a restaurant where it’s really easy to end up with too much food, we still all over-ordered and ended up with way too much to eat. David, in particular, once again got carried away, and seemingly could barely make it to his car after much over-indulgence (the soup with coconut milk gets you every time!) Once again the restaurant seemed decently busy, the food came rapidly and very hot, and everyone found almost every item delicious.

As far as the newbies, they are some of my recent well-treasured regulars, Tracy, Peter, and Cora. Poor Peter, a few times recently he has had to come directly from the operating theater (how dramatic) directly to the dinners, negotiating annoying North/South or SW traffic along the way, but we are happy that he still manages to join us, stress inducing though his journey might be, and feast on our evening of good eats.IMG_2803 Sometimes I think we should go back to those earlier RR days when the dining times were a bit later, but I’ve learned over the years that when you have a group, 6:30 is much more manageable reservation-wise than 7:00 or after, and since our dinners commonly last between 2.5 – 3 hours, we still finish eating at a fashionably late time. Also, as people work on Fridays and the weekdays before,  they tend to start getting tired once 9:30 or so rolls around, other of us have babies that can only stand the “dining ordeal” for so long, and still other have chickens to put to bed, after they get home from the dinners (the dinees, not the chickens, they rarely get to go out for KFC.) So although it makes some people have to rush (sorry, rushees) at least for now, 6:30 remains the preferred dining hour. (Maybe 10 years from now, when we are all elderly, we’ll switch to a more acceptable dining hour like 4:30.)

IMG_2811The repeat performers this evening were me (these people are having no luck shaking me) Heidi, Julian (who brought along Special Guest Hank) and David. What probably is sad is that all of us ordered almost exactly what we got last time, obviously no adventurous souls amongst us, but the reasoning behind this is that we all enjoyed what we had last time, not that we didn’t want to try new things. Even more funny, the new folks ordered some of the things we got last time but did not re-order this time, so the food was mostly really familiar, even with bodily additions and subtractions from last time (Michael was not amongst us this time, his comment, “why would I go there when I eat there all the time?” Well, la dee da, you downtown dweller!)

Anyway, here’s what we ordered, with a few comments too …

Fresh Rolls (Salad Rolls) – (Carrot, cilantro, mint, basil, steamed rice noodles and fresh lettuce wrapped in rice paper and served with peanut plum sauce.) IMG_2802I have yet to eat a salad roll without making a mess, trying to keep the fillings intact while ripping the rice paper with my teeth, and judging by the funny photo I got of Heidi trying to accomplish this while also trying to juggle Hank, I don’t think I’m the only one to experience salad roll implosion. Unfortunately, you’ll just have to imagine this for yourself, as Heidi banned me from using the photo on the blog. (It kind of makes me think back to the good old days when those first two lawyer women I had in the group would not let me use their photos. Other than that, good members though.)

Golden Squid – (Deep Fried Squid) – rather self-explanatory, and good as always. This is where David got himself in trouble immediately, deep fried followed by a gigantic bowl of creamy soup and assorted other snacks.

Egg Rolls – (Crispy fried spring rolls.) – No comment necessary, except for small and round opposed to big and flabby, always crispier and tastier.

Angel Wings – (Boneless chicken wings stuffed with ground pork, shrimp, glass noodles, carrots, mushrooms and onion. Served with cucumber sauce.) I remembered from last time that these were really tasty, so both Tracy and I got an order of these. It’s hard to imagine you could stuff a chicken wing, but you actually can get quite a lot of filling inside these babies.

 Sai Oua (Northern Thai Sausage) – Pork, kaffir, lemongrass, galangal root, red curry, tumeric. Cora got couple of items off the specialty menu, and this was the first of those. Really full of spices and flavorful, Peter was really impressed and got a second order.

Ox Tail Soup – (A soup from Dang’s specialties menu.) I’ve never had Oxtail Soup before, so I don’t know how this differ from “American Oxtail Soup.” Cora found it incredibly rich and delicious though, and Tracy really liked her bowl as well.

Tom Kha (Soup) – (Spicy and sour coconut milk soup with lemongrass, galangal root, kaffir lime leaf, tomato, onion, mushroom and cilantro.) One of David’s all time Thai favorites, but I knew he was going to be in trouble the rest of his meal because last time he got so full eating this soup he could barely touch the rest of his food, and sure enough, he ended up taking home a gigantic container of leftovers (of course several people offloaded their leftovers his way as well.)

Papaya Salad – (Som Tum) – (Shredded green papaya, Thai chili, garlic, cherry tomatoes and peanuts, tossed with Som Tum sauce. )IMG_2807 David just loves this salad, both here and at Pok Pok, and as per usual it was very pretty, with the long strands of green papaya providing an attractive contrast to the cherry tomatoes and Thai chilies.Tracy found out about those spicy little chilies, as she was pretty choked-up and rather heat wary for the rest of our evening. As I always say, medium at Dang’s establishments is pretty close to burning hot at other restaurants.

Ginger Fish – Halibut fillet, pan fried and topped with fresh ginger strips, onions, mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, cauliflower, carrots and zucchini in gravy sauce. Cora kept trying to hand this around, not because she didn’t like it, but because she’s always really generous with what she orders (as everyone at this dinner was) but as it was one of those later arriving items, everyone was pretty full and mostly gave it a dubious glance and put their hand on their stomach in discomfort.

Pad Kee Mao – (Drunken Noodles) – Stir fried fresh wide sized rice noodles, egg, fresh ground chili, bell peppers, onion, tomato and basil leaves (Chicken and Tofu.) IMG_2817This is my favorite all around Thai dish, as I love the wide noodles, and most people prepare it decently. I became burnt out on Thai take-out for lunch at least five years ago, but know if I have a craving I can walk a block from work to Dang’s original restaurant, Chaba Thai, and have a really good rendition of Pad Kee Mao (after all, although ownership has changed, they still use Dang’s recipes.) Julian ordered the tofu version, and David got the chicken, and both were plenty spicy at medium. I think both guys ended up taking home lots of noodles, because it was just too much to eat with everything else.

Crab Fried Rice – (Fried rice with Dungeness Crab meat.) – Heidi had this last time, and it’s an incredibly large portion brimming with crab meat. She got it again, and it was one of the favorites at the table.

Green Curry with shrimp – (Eggplant, bamboo shoots, bell peppers and basil in green Thai curry made from green chili peppers and rhizome root.) –  My original favorite neighborhood Thai place was a little hole in the wall over on S.E. Stark by Portland Nursery (the building was originally a gas station) that changed hands over 10 years ago, and has lasted since then in its new incarnation.IMG_2808 I’ve never been in the newer place, and I can’t remember the name of the original restaurant, but they always had my favorite version of Thai curry, Paradise Shrimp, which was a red curry with coconut milk and pineapple (strangely, I don’t even like pineapple.) It was just medium hot, but had the most wonderful rich blending of spices, basil, and coconut milk, and it’s the curry I judge all others by. As per usual, I never should have ordered any curry at Red Onion medium, I should have said mild, because while it was decently tasty, I could only make it through about half of my leftovers the next day, as it was way too hot, no matter how much rice I added underneath.

Tom Mamuang – (Smoked Trout Salad.) – Another item from Dang’s specialties menu, always one of the best things at the table.

Medallions of Beef – (A big old plate of steak medallions, also from Dang’s menu of more unusual Northern Thai cuisine.) As I mentioned before, Peter had to hurry from work, and was quite a few minutes behind the rest of us, so he spent all evening being rushed along in ordering. I know on those sad occasions  when I’ve managed to get myself lost on the way to the dinners (Ned Ludd, Allium, Mextiza) once I finally arrive, after everyone else, I am off kilter all evening, even if I have planned ahead what to order.IMG_2816 Food was already being eaten when Peter got there, so he didn’t have a ton of time to analyze the large menu. It seemed like he wanted a beef dish though (it’s funny, Asian restaurants tend to be the only place i don’t seek out beef) and while he was thinking of Volcano Beef (which I think is supposed to be spicy) I showed him the Beef Medallion selection on the specialties menu, as it sounded intriguing. Peter was asking the waitress about various beef dishes and for recommendations, but this isn’t really the type of inquiry you get a serious reply to at places like this, everything is more “by rote” than “by opinion.” The waitress did state, however, that the Medallions of Beef was the cream of the crop, but she wasn’t sure if the kitchen was making it this evening, as they had run out of beef a few days ago, and didn’t know if they had gotten more. Because of this, Peter had to give a list of order preferences, from one to three, not knowing what he was getting until it arrived(rather a disconcerting way to order.) Obviously, they had gotten more beef medallions, and this gigantic plate of steak rounds arrived at just about the time Peter was 80% full of other food. They looked so beautiful, and were incredibly tender, but Peter seemed nearly defeated by the amount of food placed in front of him. Consequently, everyone who wanted steak got some, we all agreed it was delicious (sorry, I don’t remember what the sauce was, and I have nothing to reference) and David even got a whole medallion to add to his grizzly bear sized take home container. The only negative note, the sticky rice that Peter ordered arrived about check time, when he obviously no longer wanted it. The waitress said it was fine to send it back, but looking over the bill I see that we were still charged for it ($2) even though the kitchen took it back. Judging from the size of portions we got, it’s hard to imagine anyone quibbling over that $2.

Of course no one had dessert on this evening, since to begin with, people were practically rolling out the door like beach balls because of their overstuffed bellies, and secondly, Thai desserts are not that great (or maybe it’s just the Thai desserts in America.) Sometimes I don’t order dessert because of budgetary concerns, but rarely am I not tempted by anything at all on the menu, and when this happens, it’s usually at a Thai or other Asian restaurant. I suppose it’s because their main courses are so tasty, abundant and filling, who needs to develop sumptuous desserts? (although India has some interesting sweet things.) No dessert means a smaller personal tab though, so I’m all for that, as long as I am not dessert deprived too often.

All around, a very successful dinner.IMG_2812 I would probably say the service was better on our first visit, although most of the issues this time were minor ones, the fact that our group of eight plus infant were given a table set (and perhaps sized) for six, having to order a couple of things twice to actually get them, and of course the heinous sticky rice incident, all small service letdowns. The food, however, was anything but a letdown, as per usual with one of Dang’s restaurants, the kitchen was operating with delicious precision. One of the starters came with some sort of fried won ton strips for garnish, which remained behind when everything else was gone on the plate, so I insisted the waitress leave them (as they looked like they might be tasty) and it turned out they were totally lousy, but aside from these flavorless crispy strips, and some alarming spiciness, everything was excellent. Eating at Red Onion Thai seems to make people happy, delicious Thai food a level above every other Thai establishment in town, pleasant atmosphere, moderate prices, gigantic portions, it’s one of those places I know I can take the group and have a really successful dinner.
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