Restaurant Reviews :
by Max Hauser
185 Castro is a venerable restaurant address, Xanh's original location, and as some of you will recall, Jacqueline's (downtown MV's former French bistro and wine bar, closed 1993 -- I still have various menus on file). Thaiphoon, recently opened there, expands on a successful downtown Palo Alto prototype, same ownership also as Siam Thai Cuisine in San José. Thaiphoon dubs itself "pan-Asian," with obvious Thai emphasis in the menu (and much of old Xanh's look). Two recent lunch visits a week and a half apart make no one an expert, but for what it's worth I and friends were favorably impressed and plan to return.
The roti (Indian-style flatbread appetizer with dipping sauce, $6.50), in Thaiphoon's phyllo-like rendition, had a spicy coconut-puree dipping sauce so delicious we carefully reserved some to put over rice when our main courses came. Another app., the mildly named "lettuce wraps" ($8), presented a supply of filling to wrap in crisp lettuce leaves. The filling could be a cousin of kung-pao: in the vegetarian version, diced crisp vegetables and tofu coated with dark hoisin-like sauce, not hot-spicy, but very savory, good counterpoint to the lettuce. (A few such appetizers and who needs "main courses?") Lunch specials (all priced around $9), most with rice (white or brown, a trend lately in local Pacific-Asian restaurants) were substantial, including soup and salad (made heartier in my experiences by inclusion of a dressed, cold, hard-cooked egg in halves). Lunchtime noodle offerings include soups and some fine-noodle dishes, the inevitable pad Thai, and pad see-ew (the variously phoneticized sweet-savory stir-fry with wide rice noodles, green crucifer vegetables, thick soy sauce, and usually meat, not hard to cook at home). I haven't tried any of those, and would have tried one of the famous Thai hot-spicy wide-rice-noodle dishes such as pad kee mao, were it on the lunch menu (it's on the dinner menu -- incidentally it's been done very well at both Amarin and King of Krung, across Castro Street). However, "chicken with Thai basil," another spicy stir-fry, was on the lunch menu and skillfully done with good fresh vegetables and bright flavors, the advertised "hot" only moderate by local standards when tasted on two different occasions. The first lunch visit found eager but awkward service; the second (several days later) very gracious, so the crew varies, or they're getting things together -- as new restaurants often do.
In what I could tell from a small sampling so far, Thaiphoon showed a serious kitchen and good overall experience. Must go back (even just for more of that roti sauce!). Some "very happy hour" deal, with appetizers, appears on a sandwich sign outside, but I haven't tried it. Will the market accept another Thai restaurant downtown? Before you guess, note that in 2005, some wondered if Castro St had too many restaurants at 72. (It now has 20-odd more.)
-- Max Hauser
185 Castro St
Mountain View, CA 94041