Thai and Thai Again | Wine | Salt Lake City Weekly

Thai and Thai Again 

Thai Spice and Bangkok Classic add to the valley’s embarrassment of Thai riches.

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Count yourself lucky. Whether you know it or not, you are rolling in Thai food. Not since back in the days of People’s Express Airlines'when I’d spend frequent weekends in the nation’s capital'do I remember a city with as many Thai restaurants per capita as ours now boasts. I’ve already written about some of my favorites: Bangkok Thai, Mekong Cafe, Thai Garden, Park City’s Bangkok Thai on Main, Thai Delight, Thai Siam, Monsoon Thai … the list goes on. To that ever-growing list, add a couple of relative newcomers: Thai Spice and Bangkok Classic.

Among my foodie informants is a Thai woman with a discerning palate and an under-stuffed pocketbook. She always lets me know where the best Thai food'not to mention the best deal'is to be found. She’s hit home runs for me in the past, so when she recommends a Thai restaurant, I listen. This is how I came to Thai Spice, located'maybe I should say “secreted”'in a Midvale shopping center just west of Hoppers on Fort Union Boulevard. Look for it the next time you’re having your Oreck vacuum cleaner serviced. There’s also a nifty little gyro/souvlaki shop next door to Thai Spice, but we’ll discuss that another time.

Thai Spice doesn’t look like much from the outside. But step in through the glass doors and you’ll find a small-sized place (about 15 tables), beautifully adorned. Underneath glass-topped tables are rich-looking black tablecloths with gold embroidery that mesh nicely with gorgeous zodiac-sign fabric wall hangings from Thailand. The walls'a color somewhere between Grey Poupon and French’s mustard'are soothing, and work well with burnt-orange-colored floor tiles. It’s a smallish restaurant, but not cramped.

On the cover of the Thai Spice menu is the word “Sawatdee,” which I’m told means “Hello, and welcome.” Welcome is precisely how one is made to feel at Thai Spice, where the service is attentive (but not bothersome), friendly and professional. Since the kitchen at Thai Spice makes virtually everything to order from scratch, it’s not the best place to dine if you’re in a rush. So mellow out and order an appetizer to munch on while you await the entrees. A good choice is the curried potato, ground beef and pea-stuffed fried puff pastry called “samosa” ($2.95), which, as you might expect, is very similar to the samosas found in Indian restaurants. Take advantage of the sweet and spicy chili sauce for dipping.

Lunchtime is the perfect time to explore Thai cuisine at Thai Spice, when a lunch combination of two entrée choices, steamed jasmine rice, salad and a Thai egg roll is served up for a mere $6.95. The salad is a basic pile of iceberg lettuce bathed in a not-so-basic sweet peanut dressing that I could eat all by itself. And the fried egg roll is more than just an afterthought: stuffed with spiced ground beef redolent of allspice and maybe a touch of cinnamon.

There’s an extensive variety of entrees to select from at Thai Spice, either as part of a lunch combo or as dinner entrees. All the usual suspects are there: a zippy beef dish with coconut milk and red curry; chicken with green curry, Thai eggplant, green beans and Thai basil; and a wonderful dish called “pad golok” which is tender (but not overcooked) steamed beans, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, onion and peppers topped with a luscious warm peanut sauce.

Yet as good as all those dishes are, I favor Thai Spice’s “pad bai grapau gai” ($8.95), which is a clever use of ground chicken'stir-fried with a touch of garlic'and served with bell peppers, Thai chili peppers and a subtle but spicy basil-infused sauce. There’s a very similar dish on the menu that makes use of calamari rather than chicken. With the chef’s specialty dinner entrees topping out at about $13, Thai Spice is most certainly a Thai bargain.

Bangkok Classic on State Street (there’s also one in Orem) is probably four times the size of Thai Spice'or at least it looks that big when it’s not full. There are three parallel dining areas in the front and four special tables in the back with sunken compartments for guests’ feet; you get to sit on the floor without having to first study yoga. The look of Bangkok Classic is, well, classic'if by classic you mean that old-fashioned American-Oriental restaurant vibe with wood paneling, high ceilings and a carpet that might have been designed by Captain Beefheart on Window Pane. And I can’t explain the “Made in China” bobble-head canine figurines for sale at the front counter. This is a peculiar place, but invitingly so in a retro sort of way. It’s the anti-Thaifoon.

Bangkok Classic boasts “cooking virtually oil free!” And that seems consistent with the dishes I’ve had there. Even the Thai orange chicken ($8.25), which in many restaurants is an oily mess, at Thai Classic is crispy not greasy, and served with a spicy citrus sauce of orange and chili. Likewise, the stir-fried green beans with onions ($8.25) are blessedly oil-free.

The help-wanted sign out front explains the somewhat dismal service at Bangkok Classic, although a nice guy named Alex tried to keep things moving. Along with typical Thai “ghang,” “panang” and “massaman” curry dishes, there are other more exotic options like “pad prick king.” And really, how could you not order something called pad prick king? It turns out to be lean pork stir-fried with Asian mushrooms, baby corn, celery, onions and bell peppers, with fragrant hints of ginger throughout.

As with Thai Spice and most of the other restaurants in town now, Bangkok Classic offers a $7 lunch special with two entrees, rice and egg roll. With so many restaurants and such low prices, there’s simply no excuse not to Thai one on in this town.

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