My, oh my, Rocharin Thai is a keeper
You know that warm sensation when you walk into a friend's house, and you realize there's no place you'd rather be?
That's the feeling I get at Rocharin Thai, which recently opened in a tiny space formerly occupied by two previous Thai restaurants.
That can be the kiss of death for a dining establishment, of course, because patrons have trouble distinguishing one place from another.
But I sincerely hope this restaurant survives, and not only for its friendly staff, all of whom give you the impression they've been waiting all day just for you.
This attitude reminds me of the hospitable locals we met vacationing in Thailand a few years ago. And the menu keeps up with my memory's warm glow.
"Mom. This food is the bomb," my teenage daughter announces to me, as she dives into the chow mein lunch special for $7.95.
Chow mein is not Thai food, but they have it on the menu anyway, for people like my kid who want something a little more familiar. Since that visit, she's already pestering me to go back.
On the recommendation of co-owner Rocharin Wonkchinda, whom everyone calls Jack, I order the green curry, served in a bowl with spinach, coconut milk, eggplant, tender bamboo shoots, slender slices of bell peppers and basil, and ask them to turn up the heat.
Unlike many Thai restaurants, which don't actually serve your food spicy when you order it that way, this curry comes with a nice strong bite of chili, enough to warm my throat and bring a tiny bit of water to my eyes, without actually causing me to weep.
Because my daughter also wanted the yellow curry, Jack brought her a tiny bowl of it to sample, no charge. He did not know I was reviewing his restaurant; he just wanted her to be happy.
We agreed it was also "the bomb," and I particularly liked the roasted potatoes with the skins still intact. Usually, yellow curry comes with lumps of boiled potatoes, so this tasted fresher and more flavorful with fresh carrots and onions.
On our second visit, I had Tigers Tears, which is a variation of the Crying Tiger char-grilled beef dish found on most Thai menus. It was marinated chunks of Angus ribeye, accompanied by fresh broccoli, carrots and a dab of spicy chili sauce. Delicious.
All these dishes come with jasmine rice, or you can choose brown rice.
Lunch specials are accompanied by a green salad that has real leafy greens. No iceberg lettuce here. Crispy fried wontons are served on the side.
Wonkchinda told me he worked in the restaurant business for 18 years after moving here from Bangkok at age 12. He fulfilled his longtime dream of opening his own restaurant in September. It's a family affair: His wife, Papzyy, is also one of several partners.
I hope they can survive this tough business, because we want to make this one of our regular haunts. And I still haven't even tried the Pad Thai.
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