Isan Thai Restaurant

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Thailand is know as the “Land of Smiles”, something we saw in abundance at Isan Thai Restaurant.  “Why smiles?” my partner Jill asked, so rather than answer off the cuff, I took a little history lesson, (’cause I wondered as well).  And my answer?  Try: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isan_language.

It was nice to learn that the “Land of Smiles” is alive and well right here in this unassuming little location on our very own Tamiami Trail.  Having been to Thailand 4 times previously, let me just say I don’t need a lot of coaxing to enjoy Thai cuisine or the friendly hospitality that is in abundance at Isan Thai.

So let me set the scene . . . It was a quiet week night, a bit humid and overcast. Another one of those “too-tired-to-cook-nights” when the inspiration to head here hit me.  Neither of us had been here before, so it turned out to be a sensational call!  True Foodies are never too tired to explore.

Upon entering the lovely interior filled with a host of Thai art and architecture, servers with beaming smiles and a tantalizing aroma wafting from the kitchen, I could not believe this place wasn’t packed!  Isan Thai fires on all cylinders service-wise (see”Land of Smiles” – go ahead, Google it!), and food-wise.  We were greeted graciously at the door, offered the booth of our choice, and our newest delightful evening of “Celebrating Sarasota One Meal At a Time” began.

When I look at an unfamiliar menu, I sometimes let the names of the dishes guide me – I’m just a culinary wanderlust that way, so how does some Sai Grok Isan, or Nham Clook sound?  Sai Grok Isan is a sausage from the northeastern region of Thailand, made with pork, garlic and rice and served on a bed of lettuce with a side of white rice.  This made for a tasty starter, and a great pairing with the Nham Clook, which is more of a salad.  Made with a mixture of crispy rice with ground chicken, lime juice, ginger, shallots, cilantro and peanuts, this salad was a real hit with us.  A few bites into both and I was ordering a second glass of water.  (I love food with a bit of ‘kick’.)  So, trust me, these appetizers were a bit of heaven for us Foodies. Even for the unadventurous, this is tasty-goodness beyond belief!

For our entrees, it’s a Seafood Combo Pad Thai for Jill, which is huge and crazy good.  Pad Thai is something most folks will enjoy,  as it’s made with the light rice noodles, like a pasta, sauteed with egg, bean sprouts, ground peanuts, scallion and the protein of your choice.  Jill’s order came with calamari, shrimp, lobster and scallops, but you can also order Pad Thai without any protein, or with just one of the seafood choices, beef, chicken or pork, or even tofu or vegetables.  The serving, as we’ve come to learn lately, was more than enough for dinner, so Jill gladly packed up enough to take to work to show off at work the next day.

Once I saw the Crispy Duck and Ginger Sauce on the menu, I was smitten.  I love to cook at home, and as good a cook as I think I am, I learned long ago that crispy duck is best made by someone else.  (Do the words ‘kitchen fire’ mean anything to you?) Well, gladly Isan Thai’s Crispy Duck was better than I could ever make at home, and probably better than I’ve had anywhere.  It came with a mix of steamed vegetables, and let me tell you –  the blend of the duck and ginger was the perfect combination of crispy crunch, sweet duck meat and the sauce on the side had a nice kick (you know I love it) of ginger and peppers.  I truly can’t think of anyplace you can get Crispy Duck like this.

As I mentioned, we Foodies are adventurous by nature, so we asked for a sampling of Isan Thai’s hot sauces.  They came in a little carousel with 4 individual pots of sauce, each with varying degrees of flavor/heat.  Our server was kind enough to point out the mildest to the hottest, and without asking, filled up my water glass for the third time.  I was in heaven (even if the heat from the hot sauce came from Hades).  Yumm…

Up and down the menu, we saw entrees, salads and appetizers that beckon us to return.  Believe me when I say no coaxing, no coupons or incentives will be necessary in this case.  What lovely way to cap off the end of what would otherwise have been an dreary day!  Smiles, everywhere!

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