Ok, I finally took the plunge and dined there for lunch last week despite the mixed reviews. I simple had to sample it for myself. The decor is simple. There's not much to indicate that it's an Asian place - save for the hanging dragons against the wall and soy bottles on the table. In otherwords, it's not cheesy, but not special either. The lunch menu featured no sushi. I was a bit surprised by this, but it wasn't a deal breaker for me. The prices for lunch entrees are in line with Surin's. Between $6.50 & $7.50 for most.
There are similarities in the menus. If I recall correctly, fried catfish is offered (but I can't remember what the accompanying sauce was), pad thai, massaman, chicken noodle bowl, pad prik, thai beef salad and a plethora of other things. I think they offered between 12 & 15 choices.
All lunch entrees come with the traditional coconut/chicken soup AND a spring roll. The soup was very good, loaded with lots of mushrooms, green onions and tofu. I detected a bit of cilantro, but it was very subtle. The most noticable difference between the soup here and Surin was that it was much lighter. It's appearance is not as opaque as Surin's soup. Perhaps they used light coconut milk instead of full fat. It didn't diminish the flavor in the least. It was much less greasy feeling but still had the full notes of coconut. I really, really enjoyed it. I also felt that it had a bit more bite or heat than Surin's.
The basil roll was very good. Lightly fried, just getting the wrapper crispy. The insides were fresh tasting and not affected by the frying in the least. I was, however, disappointed in the sauce. It was the jarred, coyingly sweet, sweet & sour sauce. I would have loved a good plum sauce or something including wasabi.
I ordered the massaman chicken thai hot, because I wanted to compare it to a well-loved dish that Surin offers. The presentation was blah. Rice on one side, the chicken mixture on the other and the place was drowning in sauce. (My friend's pad thai was much more appetizing to look at.) However, the flavor was great! The sauce was heavenly. And what I thought was too much sauce turned out to be just the right amount since it drizzled the it over my rice. And instead of adding the "thai hot" by simply sprinkling the dried thai chilis over the top of my dish, it was incorporated in the sauce so that it was evenly distributed. Every bite had heat. The chicken was thinly sliced, but a bit overcooked. Luckily the sauce helped with that problem. The potatos and carrots were cooked well, but were cut a bit too big for my taste. I thought they were skimpy on the avocado - just three small slivers. They were likewise frugal with the cashews. Plus, some of the cashews were roasted so much, they tasted a bit burnt.
All in all, I thought the Thai House offered a really good meal. Is it life changing? No. But if I can get a satisfying Thai fix without having to hike up the hill to Five Points South or battle someone for a parking place (and barring I'm not in the mood for sushi), I'll choose to go there. It's a good and different option for those of us who work in the UAB area.
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