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Thai Satay in San Mateo – Great Curries and Egg Rolls But Don’t Get Busted by the F.B.I.!

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I’ve been meaning to write about this Thai gem on the Peninsula for more than a year. Oddly enough I just moved away from the Peninsula last weekend so I won’t be eating here for quite awhile.

We tried Thai Satay in the first place because they have a coupon in the Entertainment Book (finally there’s a coupon in there worth using!). Initially it didn’t really stand out all that much from all the other Thai restaurants around, and it doesn’t carry any hard-to-find authentic items. However, nearly every Thai standard on the menu was prepared more than competently, and there were definitely some standouts.

But first I must mention the old menu. In the old menu the second to last page had the words “F.B.I.” in huge letters across it and a picture of Fried Banana with Ice Cream (the F.B.I. in question). That was all that was on the page. Plus one point for Thai Satay. New menus were introduced a couple months ago and F.B.I. has sadly been relegated to a small photo on the page along with many other items. But thank goodness it’s still identified as F.B.I.

The place looks like your typical nice Thai restaurant. The servers are always very friendly. The check comes with a Peppermint Patty-like mint. Plus two points for Thai Satay. Also, the portions are big, and we are always able to get another meal out of our dinner. Plus three points.

Thai Satay almost always uses white meat chicken. Plus four points. (I know that’s not a favorite with everyone.) Sometimes the meat *is* a little dry.

OK, the menu. Our favorite four dishes are:

Egg rolls – These egg rolls filled with silver noodles and chicken may be the best I’ve ever had. They’re good but not greasy.

Vegetable spring rolls (cold) – These rolls filled with glass noodles, tofu, and bean sprouts could taste a little brighter with the addition of some herbs. Technically I think the egg rolls are better, but we have consistently ordered these to start our meal for the last several months.

Pad kee mao – This dish was not on the menu, but was always available upon request (I think it’s on the new menu). Anyway, it’s the best rendition I’ve had. The only one that matches it is Ruen Pair’s version, which allows half the plate to be filled with a lettuce garnish, so this one has double the quantity. Thai Satay’s has a good level of spiciness to the noodles, and includes broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, and bell peppers.

Yellow curry chicken – This is the best version of this dish I’ve had because the sauce has a little complexity.

These are my notes in my restaurant diary (yeah, I have one – don’t you?) about the other dishes we’ve tried:

Red curry – Perfect spiciness; nice complex flavor. A-
Cashew chicken – Bland with watery sauce; no spicing. C+
Tom kha gai – Sweet, not spicy or interesting enough. B+
Mussamun chicken – “Everything but the kitchen sink Mussamun” because there were a lot of added ingredient (like pineapple and – I think - raisins) I haven’t seen before in this dish. Dark meat but good and tender. Reminiscent of Nipapon’s pineapple curry. A-
Chili paste beef – Overpowering chili flavor but not too spicy; julienned veggies but not the good ones. B-
Garlic pepper chicken – Good but not garlicky or peppery enough. B+
Pineapple fried rice – Not enough pineapple or rice, but still darn good. A-
Panang chicken – Too mild; order spicier in the future. A-
Rad na – A little gloppy but good. A-
Sweet basil chicken – Good quality chicken but doesn’t absorb enough sauce. B+
Baby corn chicken – Really bland looking and tasting. No spiciness, let alone spicing (not even garlic). C
Ginger paste chicken – First time: Yay! Lots of green beans; comes in a red watery sauce. No ginger taste but good. B+ Second time: Beans really mealy (ordered out of season); not spicy at all. C-

And the previously mentioned F.B.I.? Well, it’s a good name, but I wouldn’t order it again.
F.B.I. – Coating greaseless but weird; there’s no honey. Ice cream has nice chunks in it. B-

One note I should make is regarding the spicing. Medium seemed to be the perfect spicing level, for me at least. I think I’m slightly above average on the how-much-spiciness-I-can-handle-scale. My boyfriend always wants more spiciness, and one time I gave in and got the Pad kee mao spiced hot. It arrived with lots of chili oil and chili flakes and not only was way too hot for both of us, it wasn’t hot done right. It just tasted wrong. We actually rinsed our leftovers with water after we got home, which improved it a lot.

Generally, the dishes we didn’t like were the sauté dishes that are on the bland side without aggressive spicing (dishes like the cashew chicken). But again, I wouldn’t suggest aggressive spicing here.

Katya’s Peninsula Thai Ratings:
1. Thai Satay, San Mateo
2. Nipapon, San Mateo (great chicken pineapple curry, tom kha gai, beef with basil; now that I think about it possibly better than Thai Satay…)
3. Thai Nakorn, San Bruno (really good pad kee mao)
4. Narin, Burlingame (good pad kee mao)
5. Thai Stick, Millbrae (great hot basil beef; ranked last but still good)

Sirayvah belongs in a different category owing to their prices and ingredient quality. Also I’ve only been there once, and don’t feel qualified to rank.

Thai Satay
173 E. 4th St. (at S. Ellsworth)
San Mateo
650.342.6451
Sun.- Th. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fr. - Sat. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
This place is packed on weekend nights.

Link: http://www.jatbar.com/detail.asp?num=393

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