Friday, October 24th, 2008
Despite a menu that runs for several pages, Thai Issan needs to go back to basics. The recently-opened Sebastopol restaurant may have bitten off a little more than it was ready to chew when it comes to flavorful Thai cooking.
For BiteClub, good Southeast Asian cuisine means fresh flavors punctuated by sweet, salty, sour and spicy — each bite different. Fragrance is key, with whiffs of lemon grass, lime, fish sauce, chili, coconut milk or peanuts.
With so many exotic spices and flavors inherent in the Thai kitchen, it ends up being fairly disappointing when a restaurant like Issan can’t seem to meld them into something harmonious. Or even meet the lowered expectations of two really hungry writers.
Here’s the rundown…
1. Thome Yum: Officially, Tom Yum is more of a broth (rather than Tom Khaa, which includes coconut milk). I’ve gotten both versions as Tom Yum, but Issan’s version is more in the clear, brothy camp. The bad news is that its so overwhelmed by salty fish sauce that it’s almost inedible. Skip it.
2. Fresh rolls: A chokingly expensive $6 for two skinny rolls filled with lettuce. What appears to be bagged lettuce at that. I’m all for
vegetarian rolls (though I much prefer them with shrimp), but the few sad strings of rice noodles and a leaf or two of mint were all that saved these rolls from being a house salad.
3. Pad Thai, ($8): Nothing particularly bad about it, but nothing particularly memorable. Salty is the one note that Issan hits again and again. No spark of lime or citrus. Absolutely no heat. Anywhere. A big puddle of grease at the bottom.
4. Pumpkin Curry, ($11): Lots of bell pepper, not much pumpkin. Or chicken. Though it was the best of the lot, this red curry-based entree could have fit into Cinderella’s slipper — with a little wiggle room. The portion was surprisingly small and bland. No happy endings here.
Overall: Thai Issan is still waiting for its fairy godmother of flavor to arrive.
Thai Issan: 7503 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707.829.8422. Open
Mon-Sat for lunch (11:30-3pm), dinner 5-9:30pm. Sunday dinner from