Bai Thong (Authentic Northeastern Thai), SF
- hhc Jan 12, 2011 10:52 PM
I saw an ad for Bai Thong Authentic Northeastern Thai, SF in the SF Weekly Magazine 15% off reservations after 8pm Sun-Th. Anyone try it yet?
Bai Thong (Northeastern Thai)
298 Gough St (at Fell) SF
Lunch & Dinner daily
I have been wondering about this place too. At least 75% of the menu is not recognizably Isaan/Lao and instead contains the usual curries, noodle dishes, and adapted dishes like salmon and tuna that can be found in every other run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant. And I have a hard time believing that green papaya salad is traditionally topped with prawns (rather than dried shrimp or padek) in a landlocked region...
I can't speak to authenticity, but Bai Thong is a pretty decent Thai place in my neighborhood, I probably eat there/order takeout once a month or so. The food is fresh, tasty, and the servers friendly. Much better than the other crappy Thai place that used to be in that space, and cheaper. I hope this place sticks around!
It changed sometime in 2010. I've been there a couple times and found the food no better than Thepin Thai, though the decor and service are better. Both were decent but unexceptional. Thai food in this neighborhood should get a lot better when Lers Ros moves in a few blocks away.
Finally made it here. Some conversing with the server eventually revealed that this is NOT an Isaan restaurant at all, contrary to reports on various blogs that appeared around the time they opened. The confusion appears to have stemmed from the fact that the *owner* is a northeasterner - but the chef is not. I didn't find out which region the chef *was* from, but I'm guessing probably central Thailand.
On walking in I told the server I just got back from Udon Thani and Vientiane a few weeks ago (weeks, years, what's the difference?) and asked if they could make anything like the food I had there. Ended up ordering a papaya salad and sticky rice. On request, they added some shrimp paste to the salad and also some pea eggplant they happened to have on hand today. That even Thai eggplant is not a standard ingredient in this dish here, as well as my server's comment that "it wouldn't sell" if authentic versions of papaya salad were on the menu, suggests pretty strongly that the owner is a canny marketer and is making a very conscious effort to attract the neighborhood symphony/opera crowd with improved decor and a familiar, unadventurous menu.
The papaya salad was pretty good, a little sweet for my taste, but very spicy, with the shrimp paste giving it a nice funkiness. The sticky rice was...oddly not very glutinous, with a longer grain that I usually associate with steamed jasmine rice. Weird.
When the new branch of Lers Ros opens up here, I think one of the two restaurants is in for a jolt. While I'd like to believe that the competition will induce Bai Thong to open up its menu and allow its chef to make food as good as I think she's probably capable of, I wouldn't be surprised if the opposite scenario ends up happening: deemed too "out there" by the neighborhood regulars, Lers Ros Hayes Valley decides to cut out the offal, alligator, and strong flavors in favor of slinging pad thai and angel wings.