Thai in the East Bay: Soi 4 in Rockridge
New favorite Thai in the East Bay: Soi 4 in Rockridge. Somehow I got the idea from the location, decor, presentation, wine list, yuppie crowd, and so on that it was a fusion place, so had never gone there. Mea maxima culpa. Lucky for me Uzen happened to close early the other night.
The flavors were fairly hardcore Thai, the kitchen's not shy with the fish sauce or chiles. Steamed turnip cakes, nice and crispy, with a great mungbean sprout and herb salad. Grilled eggplant and minced pork salad, nice intense dressing. Crunchy Chinese broccoli with crisp pork belly. Perfectly grilled halibut. Very reasonable prices given the quality of the ingredients and cooking, good service, and pleasant atmosphere. Good wine for $6-7 a glass.
Looks like I won't be driving into the City to Thai House Express quite as often.
I've had mixed experiences with Soi 4. I once hosted a dinner for 6 people there and everyone left pretty unimpressed with the food and service. That night we ordered lots of seafood (I know we had the mussels and a whole fish) and the mussels were overcooked and scrawny, and nothing else was memorable. Maybe it was an off night.
On the other hand, my first visit there was great, probably because we got the "short ribs slow simmered in a basil, kaffir panang sauce" -- super tender short ribs in a wonderfully nutty panang sauce. True comfort food.
We love Soi 4. We eat there regularly. The food is always great. The soups are perfectly flavored, just enough lemongrass. And the green papaya salad is a masterpiece. I think one time or other we have had everything they offer. I even ate fish there, it was good, and I hate fish. The only dish we had a problem with was a beef dish, the problem. . . is was only OK. They set a high bar.
I really like Soi 4, especially the turnip cakes, the eggplant salad, and the short rib curry. That said, I wish they were a little more Thai and a little less Californian, epecially in the vegetable accompaniments to the curries and the level of spicing. I still like Ruen Pair best for that. But Soi 4 is a great way to eat Thai food with chile-sensitive types and not have it dumbed-down in the other flavors, or overloaded with sugar.
BTW they are related to Basil Thai in SF, some of the same dishes are on the menu at both. At Basil Thai I had a dish of grrn curry chicken wrapped in eggplant slices which was fabulous. Don't know if they have it at Soi 4, but it isn't on the lunch menu.
Had some great dishes last night.
kanom pak gard Sauteed steamed turnip cake with egg, bean sprouts, and chives served with Sriracha sauce $8 - nice crunch on the cakes, I guess the whole thing is stir-fried, reminded me of really good pad seew, great mix of flavors and textures.
miang kum Fresh cut mustard leaf wrap with roasted coconut, prawns, pomelo, fresh herbs, and sweet palm $7 - fantastic one- or two-bite piles of stuff on pieces of mustard leaf, sort of like little tacos, again great mix of flavors and textures. Sweet enough to eat for dessert.
keow wan roti Grilled Indian bread with tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and basil with green curry dipping $7.50 - A bit bland compared with the first two but good, very pretty presentation. I never heard of Thai roti before, is it common?
yum makuer yao Grilled eggplant with minced chicken & prawns topped with lime-coconut cream $8.50 - Seemed like a variation on larb, great dish, yet another great mix of textures and flavors.
Those were all from the regular menu. We also got the two specials, basil lamb ($13.50) and braised chicken drumsticks in yellow curry sauce ($12.50), they were OK but boring by comparison.
This is one of those restaurants where every time I go I say, why don't I come here more often? Thank you Guest Chef for running out of food.