Dish: Pad Thai
Place: Thai Palms, Rainier Valley
On the plate: Per the menu: “Thai noodles mixed with ground peanuts, onion and bean sprouts.” There’s also lots of shredded carrot and purple cabbage, and my meat choice of pork.
Supporting cast/What to do: No supporting cast, and some of the main characters are quite AWOL. You might want to beg for what’s missing, as described below.
Noodling around: Since previous Seattle Weekly restaurant reviewer Jonathan Kauffman tempted me with his review of Thai Palms in 2009, I’ve had it on my to-do list, and only recently I had a chance to try.
I was excited to see boat noodles ($6.99) on the menu, as they’re virtually impossible to find in Seattle. (I’ve had delicious boat noodles in L.A., but here I’ve had to settle for Vietnamese “relative” bun bo hue.) Thai Palms’ menu describes the dish as “Noodles with gently steamed beef, beef ball, tendon and beef tripe in a spicy dark soup.” When the bowl came to table, I immediately knew it was wrong. This was just beef balls and beef chunks in a fairly plain beef soup flavored with fish sauce. Not dark, and certainly not spicy. No tendon. No tripe. No apology. I twice asked the server about the tendon and tripe (he seemed to forget about my first inquiry), and he eventually said that they were simply taken out of the dish.
So…no review of boat noodles this time (there’s another potential place in my sights), so I settled for the pad thai, as the menu screamed “A must try!” and the server said it’s the most popular item at the restaurant. He also promised there was no ketchup used in the preparation.
Turns out there’s also no tamarind, which I don’t understand. Also no salted radish strips or dried shrimp. No tofu. There’s egg, but not the typical omelet strips. Bean sprouts–but cooked in, and not raw. There are some green onions, but very little, and no cilantro or chives for herbal notes. No chilis for heat, and no lime for acidity and sourness. (Isn’t Thai food about the balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy?) To top it off, the pork texture was tough. On the positive side, the rice noodles were cooked well, and the cabbage and carrot were colorful.
If you want more: We asked for high spice level on a variety of dishes, but only the papaya salad ($7.99, with “duplicate?” indicated in the online menu) delivered the desired heat. It’s not nearly the best version I’ve had of this dish (the promised dried shrimp were missing), but in contrast to the other dishes we tried, we appreciated its spiciness. Besides, a salad like this, with its crunchiness, is a nice contrast to noodles.
Be aware/beware: …of everything I mentioned above.
The restaurant’s website continues to tout Kauffman’s review, its front page reading: “For delicious Lao dishes, seek out the secret menu at Thai Palms.” I sought it out, and am sad to report that the secret menu no longer exists. The server said the demand wasn’t there, the ingredients wasted, and most of the dishes scrapped–with just a few integrated into the regular menu. What’s left is the hyperbole of pad thai being a “must try” and misinformation about dishes like the boat noodles. Bottom line: a facepalm at Thai Palms.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on March 12, 2012.