Thai, Chinese and Indian at home under one roof at Thaiphoon
Before wondering why anyone would open yet another Asian restaurant on Castro Street, consider Thaiphoon's menu. It's eclectic. Deep. Chinese and Indian dishes mingle easily with the Thai specialties of the Vongampai family, who also own the original Thaiphoon in Palo Alto, where their pan-Asian concept was perfected.
While Thaiphoon isn't the first to perfect this technique on downtown's busy restaurant row, it further dignifies itself by resisting the "fusion" trend. So when you order an Indian dish, it tastes Indian. Chinese food tastes Chinese.
"We've wanted to open this restaurant in Mountain View for a long time," says Tom Vongampai, who manages the operation with his wife and mother. "People who live here are such a mix of demographics — we wanted to offer them more variety."
But they also have provided a quiet sanctuary that contrasts with the bustling scene taking place just outside the floor-to-ceiling picture windows spanning the length of Thaiphoon's storefront space. Lighting inside the relatively small dining area is dimmed, and the dark green, blue and burgundy colors are muted. Decor is neat and uncluttered. Our wait staff was attentive yet never intrusive. This is a place to unwind.
Judging by the temperature of every course, it seems as if our orders didn't linger very long in the kitchen before arriving at the table. We began with a bowl of steaming tom yung goong soup ($4.95), which proved to be a modest serving and yet was a very satisfying way to whet the appetite. The soup contained four large de-veined shrimp with tails, roasted pepper strips and mushrooms in a lively hot and sour fish broth exploding with citrus, lemon grass and chili pepper flavors. We loved this soup, which found the mid-point between spiciness and freshness.
We ordered the Indian appetizer roti ($6.50), and within minutes dug into a steaming hot six-inch pancake cut into six triangles accompanied by a yellow curry dipping sauce. We enjoyed the delicate texture of the pastry — crispy outside and fluffy inside, with a subtle oil glaze on the surface. The sauce was mild with a couple pinches of finely diced green onions and red pepper. It provided a nice complement to the roti, and was rather thin, making it better suited for spooning rather than dipping onto the pastry.
Thaiphoon's veggie lettuce wraps ($7.95) arrived as two quarter-head slices of crisp iceberg lettuce resting behind a mound of tiny tofu squares stir-fried with diced peppers and onion in a subtly sweet marinade. Our party had lots of fun peeling individual leaves from the lettuce, placing a small amount of filling in the cup and wrapping it into a manageable package suitable for eating by hand.
Next, an irresistible aroma arose from the pool of yellow chicken curry ($8.50). Chunks of chicken, whole cherry tomatoes, sliced yellow onion and firmly cooked diced potatoes swam in a sauce that was rich, buttery and delicious, and yet a bit too mild for our taste. We made a mental note to ask the chef to punch it up a bit the next time we dined at Thaiphoon (which we did on our subsequent visit, and were happy with the results).
One of many choices from the many Chinese selections on the menu, our Mongolian beef ($8.95) combined the savory flavor of sliced pan-fried beef with a thick, dark brown sauce that was both tangy and slightly sweet. Sliced leeks and hot little chili peppers provided plenty of zing, which we enjoyed, but might prove to be a challenge for less adventurous diners.
It's a bit hackneyed, like ordering spaghetti at an Italian restaurant, but I love pad Thai ($8.25), the sweet and nutty rice noodle recipe that doubles as a main course or side dish. Ours was pan-fried with tender grilled chicken slices, bean sprouts, bits of scrambled egg, sliced green onion and cabbage, all coated by a thin layer of the oily sweet fish/tamarind sauce spiced with a hint of chili pepper. I enjoyed Thaiphoon's version, which neither reinvented nor ruined this national Thai dish.
I can never resist pla chu chee ($13.95), and was excited to try Thaiphoon's version of this delectable Thai fish curry. Ours was prepared with delicate fillets of sole simmered with crisp bell peppers and peas in a buttery sweet and nutty curry sauce imbued with coconut and lime flavors. Topped with cilantro strips, this dish shimmered with beautiful green and orange colors.
With its extensive wine list (assembled with the advice of three separate wine experts), delicious food, courteous wait staff and relaxing atmosphere, Thaiphoon is a great choice, especially for parties who want a mix of Asian cuisines in one sitting.