Friday night in search of dinner in Petaluma I spotted the lit Open sign at Thai Issan after 9pm. Remembering a positive recommendation (linked below), I decided to stop in. The high-ceilinged interior is quite attractive with widely spaced tables topped with brightly colored slubbed cotton cloths under glass and a true luxury, white starched non-synthetic cotton napkins.
The dinner menu selection is enormous. My very warm and hospitable server was happy to answer questions. I asked him to suss out the regional Issan (an area in northwest Thailand) specialties or something unique from this kitchen. He recommended #17 the pork laab, $7.95, and #47 pumpkin curry with beef, $9.95. I ordered these medium and hot, respectively.
A complimentary appetizer of firm-textured sticky rice (to be eaten with the fingers) served in the traditional basket and a small dish of spicy housemade Issan dipping sauce was delicious and promising. My hopes were raised that I might find something special here.
The laab turned out to be quite different than what was described on the menu. Slices of lean pork instead of ground and no trace of toasted rice powder, this had chunks of iceberg lettuce, onion slivers, shredded red cabbage and carrots for color, chopped mint and a lemony dressing with red pepper flakes. The pork was too dry and the overall flavors lacked the bright definition and intensity I was looking for, yet it was pleasant enough. Medium turned out to be on the warm side, the pepper flakes hitting a mid-palate sensation of heat.
When my steamed rice was served, I couldnt help be disappointed that jasmine rice was not offered and I was deprived of that wondrous aroma when the lid is lifted. The rice was also somewhat broken and soft, not high quality. The pumpkin curry was very good though, rich and almost stultifying with coconut milk, chewy slices of beef, sauteed shreds of bell pepper and onion, and chunks of real kabocha pumpkin (green skinned) and sweet basil. I could not detect any lime leaf as promised on the menu leaving a small hole in the flavor spectrum and overall balance. While ordered hot, this was about the same as the medium laab and approximately equivalent to a Lotus of Siam 5 or 6 rating. I ate only a couple mouthfuls and had the rest packed to take home where I enjoyed it even more tonight.
I had wanted to leave room for dessert --- sweet rice with mango. Mangoes are rocking now, and this one was at the peak of ripeness and was tender throughout with no fiber. The sweet rice was cooked until very soft and almost broken down to a custardy texture with coconut milk and topped with peanuts. I did miss the lift that a slight bit of salt in the rice gives the whole dish but this was still delicious.
Total tab was $30 with tax and tip, including a Thai iced tea. The service was very gracious and friendly. The foods certainly above average and better than I expected to find in this town. If I lived in Petaluma, Id get to know the chefs and would ask them to make me something from their own region. Its not worth a special trip but Im happy to know its here the next time Im passing through.
Thai Issan Restaurant
208 Petaluma Blvd. North