Way-out great takeout

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The other day, while relaxing in my new favorite Asian place, I began to fudge the numbers.

Under the influence of the restaurant's subdued, evening-time lighting and the postprandial afterglow of one more smile-inciting repast, I decided the drive home only seemed exasperatingly long. And besides, gas prices weren't that high. And if I would gobble up a couple more bites of yet another gargantuan platter of yet another delicious dinner, my bloodstream could probably afford yet another adult beverage.

Then, with the face-slapping force of a Zen koan, the cold hard tallies of reality sobered me up. "Damn you, Chi Thai," I muttered. "You're too good to be out here in the boondocks."

Open about a year now, local restaurateur Joey Chang's Chi Thai has a lot to offer. It's a family-friendly place, but with white tablecloths and a few nice wine options. It stir-fries all the required Chinese takeout favorites (but with verve) on its lengthy menu, but also whips up inspired, nowhere-else-in-town Thai food.

There are several knockout vegetarian dishes, many standout seafood selections and you can get freshly steamed brown rice instead of plain white. But unless you live out New Albany way, you're likely facing a dull 20-minute (plus) ride. So is the commute worthwhile? Yeah, I think so.

Chi Thai's welcoming space is roomy, with plenty of high-backed booths, gold-framed depictions of plants, a meditating white Buddha and a bar with hooch-stacked chunky wooden shelves that faces a matching stout wine cabinet. Suspended from the high ceiling are a series of interesting, oversize, multi-hued, potato chip-like forms -- call them "Terra chips in flight."

And call me happy and sometimes surprised with the dishes I tried -- not even one was a dud. Plus, the prices were generally right -- especially at lunch, when already large entrees (most cost $6.50 to $9) get supplemented for a buck with a corn-dog-sized spring roll or a bounteous bowl of soup (like thick hot and sour that lived up to its name).

High on Chi Thai

Some recommended dishes,

listed with lunch/dinner prices

Bangkok Fish ($11/$17): A dramatic presentation, with textures and flavors to match. An extra-large serving of medium-breaded tilapia got crisply deep fried and laid on a voluminous bed of crunchy, colorful veggies (like bean sprouts, carrot threads, sliced cabbage and slivered snow pea pods). On top, the fish was completely speckled with veggie confetti (of Thai basil, jalapenos, diced red peppers and scallions) and on bottom was a sweet, soy-based sauce. Just wonderful.

Pataya Shrimp ($9/$13): Big, fat, sweet, high-quality shrimp -- lots of them -- in a mildly spicy, mildly sweet, rusty-colored curry sauce decked out with baby corn, big chunks of tomato and red pepper, sauteed onions, snow peas, whole button mushrooms and scallions.

Mala String Beans ($6.50/$10): A whole mess of blistered, yet still crunchy, string beans cooked with oversized slivers of mild sauteed garlic, lethal fresh jalapenos and brine-blasting dark bits of pickled cabbage. Came in a slightly sweet sauce, with a smoky, high-heat-derived background. A bold, piquant vegetarian triumph.

Szechuan Bean Curd ($6.50/$10): Another massive meatless achievement. Dice-sized, wiggly cubes of tofu in a potent, fermented black bean and spicy chili sauce with botanical heat enhanced by red chili flakes. Snipped scallions added some crunch.

Sea Bass Lemon Dill Sauce ($13/$21): Big, steamed, lean white fish clumps arrived "netted" in fresh dill fronds. Lots of lively, al dente steamed veggies added color and flavor, as did a bright and spicy lemon sauce with plenty of body. A healthy and interesting dish.

Ka-Thong Tong ($6): As fun to eat as it is to say. Six dainty "rice pastry cups" had a delicate crunch and were filled with ground peanuts and chicken mixed in aromatic Thai sauce.

Lemongrass Salad ($7/$9): All the potent Thai flavors on a single plate. Served with a mound of meat and a half head of iceberg lettuce.

Red Curry Pork: ($7/$12): Fish sauce and coconut milk propel a veggie-packed, forceful curry with restrained heat (if a lot of oil).