Sawasdee’s Thai cuisine is polished, but lacks a certain sizzle
It should come as no surprise to the discerning diner — which, naturally, includes all of you faithful readers — that, as in American cuisine, there is a wide range of styles and types associated with what we consider ethnic food. South Texans tend to forget, for example, that there is a lot of very high-class cuisine coming out of Mexico, and we all choose to ignore that French is not necessarily frou-frou. It’s a mind set.
|At Sawasdee, the stuffed Bangkok Wings, front, are astonishing for their size and the subtle flavor of the ground-chicken, vegetable, and bean-thread noodle filling. Also a must, the sticky rice with mango, drizzled with coconut milk, top left.|
Thai cuisine also ranges from truck stop to tony. The latter end of that spectrum has recently been established in San Antonio by Sawasdee, a place that first impresses for its cool, minty green and off-white décor, then continues to seduce with silk-swathed waitresses. At a recent dinner, our server was clad head to toe in coral, an almost-perfect color-wheel complement to the decor. You’ve got to notice these things, for they are not accidental, but you can’t let your guard down altogether in the process. If I have one concern about Sawasdee, it’s that in its sleek sophistication it may occasionally lose sight of its soul. Not to fall into another trap, that of assuming all Thai food should bring tears to one’s eyes, but a red curry should live up to its color ...
Sawasdee’s appetizers, for the most part, aren’t advertised as palate punishers, however, so we’ll evaluate them accordingly. The Lady Shrimps were the most delicate of all: elegantly slender rice-paper wands filled with ground shrimp and, theoretically, vegetables. The shrimp was tender, but — it seems churlish to complain — we didn’t detect a single shred of carrot or thread of bean. A sweet and perfumed plum sauce paired well with the shrimp batons, and it was also a fine accompaniment to the Boeing-size Bangkok Wings. Boned, panko-coated, and stuffed to within an inch of their capacity with ground chicken, vegetables, and bean-thread noodles, the wings were astonishing in size and amazing in their low-key opulence. (A little sriracha wouldn’t have been remiss, however.)
Continuing in the simple but lush vein, the scallops in green curry and eggplant were silken-textured and fresh-flavored; they needed no extra heat. Coconut milk smoothed out the chicken in red curry with bamboo shoots, peas, and bell peppers. The curry was blessed with an abundance of basil and had a faintly sweet flavor, but we thought it needed a little more zing. So, too, the spicy eggplant with “simulated meat.” Though not billed as such, the mock meat was reminiscent of the mock duck — right down to the textured “skin” — that is often sold in tins at Asian markets. Made of wheat gluten, soy beans, safflower, and cane sugar, the faux fowl is amazingly convincing, and here only slightly mushy eggplant marred the dish, which could have used just a whisper more moxie, despite an elegant sufficiency of chopped garlic.
Sawasdee Thai Cuisine
Mon-Sat, 5-10pm Sun
Price range: $6-27
Major credit cards
Though every dish we tried disappeared down to the glaze on the handsome plates, the hands-down favorite of the evening was pad prik king — leave it to the king to rule. The red curry infusing this dish, we were informed, was of a different sort than that gracing the previous chicken dish, and accordingly tasted of real chile paste, not some thinned-out wanna be. Pork, red bell peppers, crisp green beans, and loads of lemon grass distinguished the prad prik king, and though the dish was fine just as it was that didn’t deter me from wishing for, you guessed it, a tad more tingle.
So here’s my suggestion: Turn at least one blind eye to the elegant surroundings and demand (if you are of the scintillating school) some sizzle. On the appropriate plates, of course
All bets are off at dessert time, however. Sawasdee’s coconut ice cream is, not unexpectedly, less grainy and more subtle than most. I could do without the whipped cream and maraschino cherry, but granting the garnish a bye, the ice cream was great. In season, the sticky rice with mango is a must as well. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced rice so glutinous (this is not necessarily a criticism), but the fresh mango was superb, its drizzle of coconut milk reminiscent of the sauce that knits together a savory dish. Silk and seduction come to mind once again.