Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pom's Thai Taste





Pom's Thai Taste

571 Congress Streets

207.772.6999

www.thaitastemaine.com


Thai restaurants have a history of catering to vegetable enthusiasts.  While at some American restaurants, vegetarians are still forced to call the salad or perhaps the quesadilla appetizer (hold the chicken, please) dinner, Thai restaurants have long been offering choices, and healthy ones at that.  Pom's Thai Taste continues this legacy.


Rattanaphorn Boobphachati—or “Pom,” as she's known by patrons who enjoy her food—is at the helm of a budding greater Portland Thai restaurant empire.  With three locations—one on Cottage Road in South Portland, another on Western Avenue near the Maine Mall, and one on Congress Street in the heart of Portland's Arts District—Pom is making a name for herself as a Thai food maven.  I recently lunched at Pom's Thai, the one near the mall, and for just $8 was treated to a small salad, main dish, and hearty scoop of brown rice.   


The d├ęcor at Pom's Thai Taste is polished.  The room is bright—cozy chairs are covered in white fabric, tables are adorned with white tablecloths, and lights illuminate white walls.    Still, traditional Thai flavor is brought to the space through photographs of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.  It is a clean fusion of tradition and sophistication.


With the opening of The Green Elephant, a vegetarian pan-Asian restaurant, local Thai restaurants have had to work harder to maintain their vegetarian clientele.  Pom leads the charge with her extensive menu, which features over 100 selections.  The word “menu” is perhaps an understatement for the culinary literature provided at Pom's.


I was handed three separate menus.  One was the main menu, which was about six pages long, another was the vegetarian and noodle one, and the last was the sushi menu.  Virtually every item has a photograph of the dish, which in part explains the length of the menus.  Pictures of the food, however, are common in Thailand—when I visited Bangkok and Chiang Mai two summers ago, the menu of every eatery I patronized had pictures of the food.  I was pleased to see a Portland restaurant bring this practice to America.  


After a lengthy perusal of the menus, I ordered a cup of Jasmine Tea ($1.95) and then settled on the Jasmine Rice Ball ($6.95), an item from the vegetarian menu, for an appetizer.  For my main dish, I chose Vegetable Delight with Tofu ($9.95), which appeared on the main menu.  Vegetable Delight was also available on the vegetarian menu for $10.95, but this version featured crispy soy chicken instead of tofu, and Michael Pollan has successfully persuaded me to opt for less processed options.  Still, it was pleasing to see Pom's making a deliberate effort to court vegetarian palates.    


Adding to the vegetarian appeal is the transparency of these menus.  The main menu begins with a basic overview of Thai sauces and flavorings, and it is very straightforward about the ingredients in each recipe.  Like many Asian restaurants, Pom's Thai Taste also has a legend that clearly marks dishes that are vegetarian or spicy.  Throughout the menu, there are notes that remind diners which sauces do and do not contain fish or oyster sauce.  Eating vegetarian at Pom's Thai Taste is easy and fun—the customer knows exactly what's in the food and the choices are many.


The Jasmine Rice Balls arrived; they resembled golf balls that had done the dirty with some tempura.  They were hot and crispy but tasted like sushi rice with Thai spices.  The amalgamation was good, though: red curry paste, red onions, ginger, coconut flakes, scallions, lime leaves, and peanuts clung triumphantly to each sticky grain, making the combination more dynamic than discordant.  Two sweet and spicy sauces served in a small dish in a shape reminiscent of a yin-yang brightened the spiciness of the balls.     


The Vegetable Delight was a perfect meal.  The vegetables had been cooked to a crisp bite; not a single limp pepper appeared on my plate.  The garlic sauce was savory and sweet and nicely complemented the brown rice served alongside my meal.  Afterward, I felt energized and satisfied.  I felt I had consumed a fairly healthy meal.


Pom's Thai Taste is my favorite Thai food in Portland.  Yes, the competition is estimable—Chiang Mai on lower Temple Street serves up a fine Pad Thai, and Veranda Thai has earned the Portland Food Map's highest ranking—but the number of vegetarian options at Pom's Thai Taste is a force with which other restaurants must reckon.