KNOCKOUT CHAMP: Unlike many Thai restaurants, Thaitation offers a wide range of desserts, including an outstanding sticky-rice mousse with mango.
I'm convinced that one of the reasons this restaurant column doesn't get the national readership it deserves is that, while other food writers discover a Jasper White or Todd English, I keep raving about owner-chefs like, say, Dusadan Lee Narbanshart, who ran some of the best early Thai restaurants in Boston. Or my new discovery, Ratana Chourattana, who cooked at the Fenway Brown Sugar, and this winter bought it and made it even better.
|Thaitation Thai Cuisine | 129 Jersey Street, Boston (Fenway) | 617.585.9909 | Open Monday–Thursday, 11 am–10 pm; Friday, 11 am–11 pm; Saturday, 12–11 pm; and Sunday, 12–10 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Beer and wine | Up slight bump from sidewalk-level access | Some off-street parking; inquire within|
Oh, well, let the celebratarians eat celebrity. This column has done some mighty fine dining indeed after poking a trail through thickets of consonants, past forests of polysyllabic names, and over the rocks of foreign pronunciation. Some of the best meals ever have involved pointing at the menu and mumbling, or even pointing at another table.
Case in point: Ms. Chourattana's cuisine. She has kept all the old favorites from Brown Sugar, and added authentic dishes from her Bangkok childhood, so the menu is now immensely long. We couldn't find a problem with that. One of the hallmarks of Thaitation is great separation of flavors between curries.
Chourattana's chefs also know when not to use a spice. Seafood-rice soup ($4.50) has a stock that tastes entirely of seafood, but apparently is based on chicken stock, celery, and garlic oil. You smell the garlic, but don't taste it. Everything enhances the cut-up shrimp, squid, and scallops. Tom khar gai ($3.95) is another soother, a thinner-than-average coconut broth with a hit of galangal root, a hint of lemongrass, and the sweetness of some fresh coconut (though it might be holdover brown sugar).
One of the first footholds of Thai restaurants is that they successfully competed with the Chinese-American restaurants of the time on crisp, deep-fried goodies. This is evident on Thaitation's combo platter ($15.95). It's loaded with super-crisp, cigar-caliber spring rolls ($5.95/à la carte), a similar shrimp wrapped like a spring roll ($7.95), veggie spring rolls, little curried triangles in flaky rice paper ($6.95), vegetable rolls ($5.95), and even triangles of fried tofu ($5.95). And that's just the fried stuff. Chicken and steak satays ($7.95) are both nicely marinated. As are the spareribs ($8.95), which are also honey glazed and finished on a broiler. A couple of "Thai ravioli" ($5.95) serve as a kind of pasta relief; they're fresher, more gingery, and softer than the Peking variety. And three dips are available: the classic peanut sauce for satay, the soy-garlic dip we associate with Peking ravioli, and the syrupy chili sauce the Thai call "squid sauce."
Take the pepper silhouettes here seriously! Pad Thai country style ($10.95) has only one, but it burns. "Old Lady Spicy Chicken" ($13.95) has two silhouettes — I guess old ladies can really bring it in Thailand. The distinguishing feature is a lot of Asian basil, with its anise aroma. The veggies are quite good: eggplant, bell peppers, and western string beans. (Vegans and Buddhist monks can order the tofu version.)
Duck choo chee ($15.95) is another two-banger, but the red curry is buffered with coconut milk, and the distinguishing feature is a lot of kaffir-lime leaves — the chefs shred them for extra citrus oil. Mine could have used a little more duck meat, but this is such a great curry that snow peas, squash, English peas, onion, crinkle-cut carrots, and even fresh winter tomato work as foils and filler. "Poo Pad Pong-Garee" ($18.95) — if you don't want to say this in front of your date, point to H8 — has no silhouettes and all the subtleties of the seafood-rice soup. There's a hacked up soft-shell crab, crab claws, and several shrimp in a very mild curry that lets all the different seafood flavors come through.
The only disappointment — and a mild one — was the steamed rice ($1). I expect a little more aroma from Thai jasmine rice. Of course, once the choo-chee curry was added, it was fine. A wine list is available, but this really is beer food. Singha ($4.25) is a fine malty pilsner with a handsome lion on the label. Chang beer ($4.25), with the elephant label, is stronger, maltier, with a bitter finish. Both Thai beers are served in signature glasses, and the Chang glass — concave like the cooling towers of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant — shows off a superior foamy head, too. Homemade limeade ($3.50) is a refreshing soda drink.