Thai Treats From The Concrete Bunker

IMG_3560When I first heard of a new Thai Restaurant called PaaDee, I assumed it was one of those tacky play on English words that often form the name of local Thai restaurants (the worst I ever saw was Thai Beer. This was a strip mall restaurant in someplace like Salem. I guess they wanted to combine two items that are really popular here. So what if it makes no sense). Yes, I can imagine it now, PaaDee all night long! Thankfully, it turns out PaaDee has an actual Thai meaning, which is “to bring good things”. That makes me feel a bit better, although each time I mention PaaDee people always say “what, where?” because they are thinking I am mumbling PARTY!!!!!!

PaaDee is situated in that “love it/hate it” modern building at the corner of 28th and E. Burnside, where the Hungry i Tiger restaurant existed for many, many years. IMG_3559Normally I get totally tweaked and bent out of shape when they plow-down those older buildings for these new concrete condo things, but to be honest, all of the buildings on this corner were pretty skanky, and it didn’t seem the tragedy it usually does. Do I like the replacement building? Hardly. Things like this hulking behemoth do not belong in beautiful Laurelhurst, and now they have put another one up across the street about two blocks down on Burnside. Why does our city keep allowing this? That being said, many of the ground floor restaurants that are going into these urban eyesores are good places that fit in these modern concrete settings, and PaaDee is a good example of that. The inside of PaaDee can certainly be described as somewhat bunker-like, but it’s still got a good vibe, with big windows, banners, wooden birdcage lighting, and terrariums throughout. Also, owner Earl Ninsom seems to have good taste in music, so when you hear bands like Radiohead coming through the speakers, a group who is constantly changing into something even more modern sounding it’s barely music, your first thought is, hey, that really fits with the setting.

In the late 90s and early in this century, Thai food was one of my favorites, and almost every time I went out to dinner, I went for Thai. Because 95% of the Thai restaurants here cook the same dishes in varying degrees of quality, I ended up burnt out on Thai, and those same plates of food, Pad Kee Mao, various curries, Pad Thai, salad rolls.IMG_3554 I can understand immigrants coming to our country, working non-stop hours, and wanting to be successful by catering to the masses with those dishes seemingly most attuned to Western palates, not taking risks. That being said, I am a person who constantly craves variety in cooking, as many foodies do, so I ended up weary of the same old Thai. This is why, when I go out for Thai these days, I often look for the unusual, Northern Thai dishes you can find on the specialties menu at places like Red Onion Thai, and I know now, also at PaaDee,  I have talked to PaaDee owner Earl Ninsom, and he has told me that he doesn’t want PaaDee to be a cookie cutter Thai joint, he wants to create his own niche with the Thai foods he grew up eating and loved, the more complex and unusual home based comfort food Thailand has to offer.

It appears that PaaDee is doing a decent business, since when Glenda and I walked in, the place looked full, and I wasn’t sure where they were going to put the seven of us. IMG_3553It turns out they have an additional dining room I didn’t even know about, and Cora, David, Shuhong, and Yao were already there. I guess it would make sense that PaaDee would do decently, because it is part of NE 28th’s restaurant row. Surprisingly (for Portland) it’s the only Thai place between Stark and Sandy, amazing compared to a street like Alberta with multiple Thai places. Actually, the diversification on 28th is a wonderful thing, you’ve got pizza (3), Sushi (1), Tex Mex, Mexican, Thai, Fancy Coffee/Bakery, Old fashioned scuzzy, Mediterranean (2), Southern, Italian, German, Cuban, Wine Bar, Chocolate, and Gelato, and probably a couple of places I am not familiar with (whatever is going on between Fonda Rosa and Staccato Gelato these days). Now that’s an area to stroll around and eat!

I wanted a nice cocktail to begin the evening, so I looked at the cocktail board.IMG_3550 This is an advantage to PaaDee opposed to many of those hole-in-the-wall kinds of Thai places, they have a decent bar and fun cocktails. That being said, this should be a lesson to me, do not order a drink unless you know what the main ingredient is. If I had a smart phone, I could have just googled Elijah Craig, but we all know how behind the times I am in that respect, I’m one step above sending a telegraph. Obviously I had an only marginally functioning brain at this point, since I looked at the chalkboard (which brought back fond memories of Lauro, and how they used to chalk in their cocktails) and saw lots of bitter sound elixers, but then came across -12 Mile Limit – Elijah Craig 12 yrs., lime, palm syrup, tamarind – and thought, Elijah Craig, now that’s a nice sounding name! You know, although I steer far away from them, if this drink would have listed something like Seagram’s 7 or V.O., I would have said, Awk!, bourbon, and ran a million miles in the other direction. I’ve never heard of this Elijah Craig fellow though, even if he is 12 years old, and Cora had not either, and she used to be a bartender. Crazy new fangled booze. (It turns out that Elijah Craig is very famous for their 18 year old Kentucky Bourbon. Makes me want to hurl just thinking about it).

Anyway, since Bourbon is absolutely my least favorite hard liquor, one sip and I knew this drink was going to be a tough row to hoe, very cringe worthy.IMG_3544 As per usual, when I pay for liquor I do soldier on and drink it, so while it took most of my meal, I managed to get the 12 Mile Limit past my taste buds and down my throat. About two or three of these, though, and I would be be laying over the porcelain dog dish. Glenda had some Dewars Scotch, David might have too, I’m sure he had something nasty like that, I don’t know if Shuhong had anything, and Cora I think had a beer.  Yao is just a youngin’, so she most likely wasn’t boozing it up. Sam unfortunately had a Chinese beer. I say unfortunately, because Sam ended up knocking her beer over when handed a hot plate of food, and drenching both Glenda and I in charming beer aroma. Although my pants were somewhat soppy, they were only jeans, so I didn’t worry. Glenda, however, was wearing a nice white ensemble. Also, later I discovered my brand new leather purse was sitting in a beer puddle under the table. Those crazy out of control drunks, you never know what they are going to accidentally do!

IMG_3562Here’s some of those good eats we had. I can’t say too much about them individually, as people kept handing me food and I wasn’t sure what was what. Please keep in mind that the brevity of this particular dinner’s food discussion is in no way due to lack of quality, it’s due to eating confusion ….

Muu Ping – Grilled pork skewers, jaaw dipping sauce

Kanom Gui Chai  – pan fried Chinese chive cake, sour soy sauce – This was an item Cora ordered for the table. Really delicious.

Peek Gai Tod – Fried wings in Sriracha fish sauce glazed and pickled – Everyone who ate one of these thought it was really tasty. I would say an equal to, if not superior to, Ike’s Famous Chicken Wings at Pok Pok. Not so sticky.

Plaa Muel Yang – Grilled squid skewer, chili lime sauce – Whew, spicy sauce!

Asparagus – tempura, grilled prawns, pork, shallots, scallions in lime-fish sauce and coconut milk – I thought this was good, and other people didn’t complain. For some reason, however, Sam who ordered it was not impressed. I guess she was envisioning something different.

Ba Mhee “Pitsanulok” – Egg noodles, spicy lime and pork broth with pork belly, red pork, ground pork, green beans, ground peanuts and scallions – Yao really liked this, so it must have been spicy!

Gra Prao Muu Grob – Saute crispy pork belly, basil, garlic, chili and green beans

Puu Pad Pong Gari – Sauteed wild  crab lump, eggs, celery,, onions, bell peppers, curry sauce

IMG_3565Plaa Trout Tod Nahm Plaa – Fried whole trout, house fish sauce and apple salsa – I kind of thought this would be different than most of the fried trout entrees you get, slightly exotic in some way, but it was simply a deliciously crispy, fresh tasting fried trout.

Nightly Specials –

Red Curry – Cora had this and thought it was delicious, and I had a taste, as Red Curry is my favorite, and I found the curry mixture extra fragrant tasting, and not too alarmingly hot.

Black Cod – Glenda actually joined us at a Thai restaurant, stretching her boundaries. She ate this and liked it, which says it all!

I saw that PaaDee had ice cream from Lovely Fifty Fifty and I thought that might be a potential dessert, but the flavors were weird, ginger and jackfruit, or something uninspiring like that, so no dessert for me.IMG_3567 Glenda also seemed disappointed by the ice cream selection, so the only person who had anything sweet to finish their meal was Sam, who had maybe mango and sticky rice (my memory is faltering here). Sam offered it around the table, but I’m not a big mango fan, the smell is odd and usually I keep my mango consumption to a minimum, except for in fruit salad, or maybe a mixed fruit beverage. This night, Sam had to eat her dessert totally as a solo proposition.

The two times I have eaten at PaaDee  I have enjoyed both its modern, cool Thailand Meets Portland vibe and also its menu filled with many items that are an exception to the standard dime a dozen Thai fare you find all over the place in P-Town.IMG_3558 PaaDee is actually one of two Thai restaurants Earl Ninsom has here, he also owns MeeSen on N. Mississippi, a place which has a menu with food pictures that actually make the food look both tasty and tasteful (you know what those photo menus can be like, frightening!). Several months ago, he and his brother also opened a Thai market and eatery called Tarad, a place where you can not only stop by and pick up all those hard to find ingredients for a delicious home cooked Thai meal, but you can also consume a delicious Thai tidbit to whet your appetite for what you are making later (which, somewhat sadly, probably won’t taste quite as good as what you ate earlier at Tarad). It seems to me that Mr. Ninsom has his finger on what the future of Thai food in Portland should be, a bit more unusual than what has been beat into our food consciousness over the last 20 years or so of Thai eating, and as he now has three ventures going in Portland, he must be experiencing some success. His food is delicious and his eateries are good spaces, so I hope he keeps up his momentum.