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New spot for Thai food in Santa Fe is basic but good

SANTA FE, N.M. — _copyright”>By JACKIE JADRNAK

For months, I had noticed a Thai restaurant perched amid the array of shops and cafes that fill the San Isidro Plaza on Santa Fe’s south side. After visiting the Thai Cafe that opened not long ago in the De Vargas Center parking area, I figured I should go check out that other spot.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the two of them have the same ownership. Still, there are some differences in the menu and ambiance, so I figure I’ll give you the rundown on this location. It’s much more bare-bones, and the service seems to be a tad more challenged, although well-intentioned.

The room has an industrial feel, somewhat softened by cherry blossoms painted on the walls.

Sound bounces around a bit, a realization heightened by a screaming baby during my visit.

I first stopped by the Thai Cafe & Noodle Treats for a light lunch, ordering fresh rolls with shrimp ($6.95) and the som tum ($11.95). That latter item is a green papaya salad, a mainstay of Thai cuisine that is cool and refreshing. This version served the shaved green papaya over a bed of butter lettuce and spinach, with tomatoes and carrots mixed in. The spicy lime dressing was bright and tasty, but next time I might order it medium rather than mild. The lettuce could have been fresher – a couple of leaves were rather wilted.

The salad was served on a flat plate atop another, slightly larger one. It’s not unusual, but in this case a little disconcerting, because the top plate rattled every time I stuck a fork in the salad. I kept trying to find the ideal fork technique to minimize the movement.

The fresh roll – reminiscent of a spring roll, with greens and shrimp wrapped in rice paper – was a major disappointment. Although the menu said the rolls contained vegetables, I could discern only a bunch of lettuce – and, even worse, only one small shrimp in each. Honest! I couldn’t believe it! You can get good spring rolls at Trader Joe’s lined with shrimp (at least three, filling the roll from top to bottom) for only $4.49. I don’t know if this is a standard preparation for this appetizer at this cafe, or if there was some sort of screw-up. At least the sweet-and-sour dipping sauce with ground peanuts was pretty good.

On a return midday visit, I was seeking a taste of one of the curries, because those are my favorite Thai dishes. I walked in the door and stood there for a while, finally dropping into a seat by a table near the door and nabbing a carry-out menu to look over the choices. Eventually, a woman came from the back and asked if I was ready to order. I was a little puzzled, because she positioned herself behind the register and not next to my table. I suddenly realized she thought – apparently since I was alone and looking at the take-out menu – that I was ordering take-out.

OK. I went with the flow and decided I was ordering take-out.

The carry-out version of red curry with pineapple, from Thai Cafe & Noodle Treats. (Jackie Jadrnak/For The Journal)

I went for the red curry with pineapple and shrimp ($14.95). For the curries, stir-fried and noodle dishes, you can choose what to add in, such as chicken, tofu, vegetables, beef, pork or seafood. And you can choose a spice level ranging from mild to Thai hot. This time, I chose medium, which turned out to be just right for my palate.

The red curry, in a coconut milk base and flavored with kaffir lime leaf and basil, was quite good, although not as rich as some I’ve had in the past. The brown rice was well-cooked, and bamboo shoots, green peppers and bok choy (or perhaps a similar type of green) rounded out the dish.

In this case, the amount of shrimp was ample and mostly good, although a couple had a bit of a mealy texture, as if they were a little old or badly frozen. Overall, the dish didn’t rise to the level of sublime, but I was happy enough with it. After all, there aren’t all that many places to enjoy Thai food in Santa Fe.

I may be back to try some of the other menu items. I particularly have my eye on the spicy tofu and eggplant under the chef’s specials.