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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, February 21, 2003

Burning love Burning love (February 21, 2003)

If you are in the mood for spice, Woodside Thai hits the right spot

by Anthony Silk

M y most vivid memory of dining in Thailand is being afraid to eat anything. Not that the food was bad, or outrageously weird; it was just so spicy. This practice was started a very long time ago to cover up the flavor of any meat that may have spoiled, but today it's just tradition: the Thai like their food very hot.

So it was with a bit of apprehension that I approached Woodside Thai Spot in Redwood City. Tucked into the corner of a recently refurbished strip mall, the small restaurant looks almost sterile from the outside, and certainly does not hint at what awaits you inside. But cross its threshold and you'll find dark walls covered with traditional Thai art, including several pictures of King Rama V, revered by the Thai for abolishing slavery in 1905.

Sitting down at one of the half-dozen booths and tables, I sensed that Woodside Thai was aiming to provide a traditional Thai setting on a small budget. While each table had brightly colored and beautifully woven tablecloths, a thick sheet of acrylic covered the tablecloths for rapid cleanup. Tacky, but effective. Likewise, the menus, printed on very pretty handmade paper, are laminated to ensure long life.

But what the restaurant lacks in table decoration, it certainly makes up for in food preparation. If your knowledge of Thailand or Thai food is not strong -- mine is not -- you may have trouble differentiating one dish from the next based solely on its name. Fortunately, each comes with a pretty good description of its contents and can be ordered by number if you don't want to pronounce it.

We started the first night with paw pia tod ($4) and chicken sa-tay ($5.50). The former are egg rolls, similar to what you would find in Chinese cuisine, although these had a much thinner and crispier wrapper which matched the delicate flavors of the vegetables inside. An accompanying sauce was a little too sweet for my taste, but otherwise a nice match. I found the chicken in the sa-tay rather average and would probably not order it again if it weren't for the very rich peanut sauce it was served with. I would have been satisfied with just the sauce and a few slices of bread.

I was, however, very pleased with my choice of appetizers on the return visit. An order of sum tum ($5.50), a mixture of green papaya, carrots, tomatoes and green beans was cold, crisp and very spicy, the essence of great Thai fare. We actually ordered the "medium" spice level but our waiter, understanding the American palate, fortunately changed that to "under medium." It allowed us to fully appreciate the complex flavors of the vegetables before the heat kicked in. I shudder to think what an order of "hot" would have been like. The spice of the sum tum was perfectly balanced by the slightly sweet look chin tod ($5.50) sautČed meatballs. Their accompanying Thai barbecue sauce was unnecessary, as it just masked the subtle flavor of these tender delights.

The choice of entrees pleased me more the second night, although there were some disappointments. I thought the barbecued beef ($9.75), listed on a specials menu, was flavorful, but much too tough. Its accompanying sauce was too powerful and, while complex in its own right, masked the smoky ginger barbecue flavor of the untouched meat. Similarly, the chicken kai khing sod ($6.95) was too thick, making it tough, almost chewy, and lacked enough ginger to add any appreciable flavor. Even the onions and mushrooms in this dish fell flat. Perhaps it was because I had ordered this particular dish only mildly spicy. Still, lack of heat does not compensate for lack of seasoning.

Far superior was an order of chicken pad kra tiem ($6.95) which was sautČed in a garlic-pepper sauce. Here the chicken was sliced much thinner and cooked to a deep golden brown, leaving each bite-sized piece succulent. We opted for a "very under medium" level of spice and it really paid off, as it allowed the spices to add a complexity to the dish without the sweat-producing side effects. Also excellent was the chef's special orange roughy ($8.95). Batter dipped and deep-fried, it remained moist and flaky throughout. I would have preferred something lighter than the rich cream sauce it came with, but like the many dishes I tried in Thailand, this is often done to temper the hot spices.

All of the entrees at Woodside Thai Spot are served a la carte, so you will need to order rice separately ($1 per person). I'm not sure why they do it this way, as even our waiter proclaimed Thai food incomplete without a good helping of rice to go with it.

There are only two desserts available: fried banana ($2) and ice cream ($1.50). We decided to have them together, which was certainly the right way to go. The banana, like the fish, is batter-dipped and deep-fried. The result ends up looking like something out of Mrs. Paul's kitchen and by itself tasted a bit too bready. I expected the ice cream to be vanilla or something similar, and was quite surprised when it turned out to be avocado. Although unusual, the high fat content of the fruit made for a very creamy dessert, and its flavor matched, but did not distract from that of the banana. It also tempered the "breadiness" of the dessert, allowing the sweetness of the banana and the richness of the avocado to shine through.

Service both nights was prompt, friendly and helpful. After extolling the necessity of rice with a Thai meal, our waiter made an extra trip back to the kitchen, to ensure our take-home container of rice was packed full.

Drinks are limited, with soda, tea and beer being the mainstay. An undisclosed variety of wine is also available by the glass or carafe.

If you've grown tired of the same old Chinese food, but enjoy the camaraderie that comes with sharing large, inexpensive dishes, then head to Redwood City for a taste of authentic Thai food. Just be sure to order an extra glass of water.

Woodside Thai Spot, 593 Woodside Road, Redwood City; (650) 365-4079

Hours: Lunch: Mon. - Fri.: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Daily 5 - 10 p.m.

Atmosphere: Cozy, with a traditional Thai flair.

Highlights: Appetizer: Som tum ($5.50); EntrČe: pad kra tiem ($6.95); Dessert: fried banana and avocado ice cream ($3.50).

Price Range: Starters: $4-$7; Entrees: $6.50-$10
Reservations: No Credit Cards: Yes Valet and lot Parking: Yes Alcohol: Yes Takeout: Yes Highchairs: Yes Wheelchair access: Yes Banquet: No Catering: Yes Outdoor seating: No Noise level: Low Bathrooms: Avg.


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