Sai Jai Thai
771 O'Farrell between Larkin and Hyde
I met two friends here at 6:30 last night, and we had the whole place to ourselves except for one or two people who came in to get food to go. The place is clean and bright, with photos of their menu scattered along the walls. It's definitely an above-average dining room for the neighborhood. They don't serve beer or wine, so we brought some with us.
After reviewing a (very) large menu, we decided to stick to the classics and ordered the following:
Vegetable Green Curry and jasmine steamed rice
Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango
When asked how we wanted our food (mild, medium or spicy), my dining companions asked for mild. I was a bit bummed, because lately I've been really getting into spicy foods, but it turns out the "mild" at Sai Jai still has a kick, so keep that in mind. I suspect spicy freaks would be very happy ordering it hot here.
It was the first time I've ever had it with Laloop leaves instead of spinach. They're prettier, flatter, thinner, and milder than spinach. The mildness really let the flavors of the filling shine. I thought this dish was excellent- the perfect composition of bright, earthy, salty, sweet flavors singing together. Great texures too. Definitely the best version of this dish I've ever had.
I'm a green papaya salad freak, and while this was not the best I've ever had, it was good. A smallish portion, it had a bit of heat and a good balance of the salty/sour. Did not have chili paste mixed in like some do.
Vegetable Green Curry
Excellent, although I've never had green curry before so I have nothing to compare it to. I can tell you that the flavors harmonized well and were not overwhelmed by coconut milk. Tofu, green beans, zucchini, carrots, red peppers...maybe onions? Not sure.
Pad Thai (with Shrimp)
This was a winner. Way better than the version at Thai House Express. Nothing overwhelmed anything else, and the tofu was cooked so well -- not overly fried into dry chewy cubes, not left flabby and mushy. It was just slightly crispy with a sweet, caramel taste. Delicious!
How can this dish be anything but delicious? Large portion, sizzling hot and fabulously evil.
Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango
Mango wasn't too flavorful, but I love this dish...salty, sweet, chewy, coconutty. Yum.
Overall, I will definitely be back. The menu is huge, the place is clean, the prices are good and the portions (except for the Som Tum) are generous. I've never had Thai food this balanced. Usually, there's one or two flavors that crowd out everything else. But the dishes we had each offered a wonderful progression of flavors. There's real restraint and subtly at work here.
We had a shock later that night when we were at the bar at Michael Minna. Our bill for 3 cocktails was $40-- three dollars MORE than the entire bill at Sai Jai. Oh well.