A new Westerville restaurant makes its mark with an uncommon dessert and the near-perfect execution of a common dish.
Kudos to Westerville's Thai Grille for serving local, organic fruits and vegetables. This is not a political point, it's a gustatory one-the produce just tastes better.
And fresh produce is much in evidence here, in both starring and supporting roles. Thai food is sui generis-it is like no other: sweet and spicy, salty and fragrant, bursting with a multitude of wonderful flavors. I've heard there are people who have tasted good Thai food and don't like it; I've also heard there are people who don't like sunshine or music.
My very favorite thing here was a dessert-black sticky rice with fresh mango. The shiny dark rice was firm and nutty, and it paired beautifully with a soft rich coconut milk sauce. It was a perfect foil for the bright flavors of mango. A sprinkle of toasted black sesame seeds added some crunch.
Working backward through the menu, try the pad Thai. It is one of the few around that makes liberal use of the fermented fish sauce endemic to Thai (and Vietnamese, for that matter) cooking-and the salty, fragrant sauce made the dish sing. I needed a touch more lime, though, which when squeezed on, made the dish near perfect. The shrimp in the pad Thai were notable for their size and freshness.
Also good was a dish of pork with eggplant in a strongly flavored green curry sauce; the pork pieces seemed like loin or even tenderloin, and the chunks of eggplant were cooked, but not mushy. Pad see ew featured wide rice noodles with slices of pork, carrots, broccoli and whole or large chunks of shiitake mushrooms. The flavors were mild, perhaps a little plain, but it might be a good dish for the spice-averse or small kids. And I liked a dish of small pieces of roasted duck with crisp snow peas and green beans in a red curry sauce. (For some reason, the menu included such Chinese dishes as cashew chicken.)
Among appetizers, the summer roll used a rice wrapper to enclose mixed greens and avocado. It was so plain, though, that the spicy/sweet dipping sauce could not rescue it, and I was hoping for a sheaf of fresh herbs such as Thai basil and mint, but they were barely in evidence. The fried spring roll with shrimp was better, but the best starter was the som tam-a salad of shredded green papaya, carrots, tomatoes and green beans. The dressing was mostly fish sauce and lime, with some hot chilies-refreshing. Almost as good was a salad of bits of chicken (a beef version also was available) with slivers of crisp onion, small pieces of hot pepper, cilantro, Thai basil, lime and (again) liberal use of fish sauce. There were the usual Thai soups, including chicken broth with shrimp or chicken, with or without coconut milk. The one I tried-tom yum gai, with chicken-was decent, but could have used more flavor from herbs and lime.
The setting, just off the main drag in downtown Westerville, was plain, but comfortable, and the service sweet. The place has a wine and beer license now and a few selections were available.
15 E. College Ave., Westerville
Atmosphere: Plain, but comfortable.
Recommended dishes: Black sticky rice with mango, pad Thai, pork with eggplant in green curry, som tom.
Price range: Lunch $8-$13; dinner about $20.
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 am to 10 pm, Sunday noon to 9 pm.
This story appeared in the July 2010 issue of Columbus Monthly.