First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at email@example.com.
The Cameron Park area has a few good restaurants – Poor Red’s (El Dorado), Crepe Town European Cafe (Shingle Springs) and Sierra Smokehouse BBQ (Cameron Park) come to mind. But it’s part of the lifestyle there to drive to Placerville, El Dorado Hills and Folsom to find more dining options.
One reason for the locals to stay closer to home is the recently opened Thai House, across the street from the Cameron Airpark. You can’t miss the huge flag out front, flapping in the wind along Cameron Park Drive, proclaiming “Thai Food.”
There’s a backstory: Building contractor Robert Adorjan of Rescue was in South Lake Tahoe on a three-year job when he began eating regularly at a Thai restaurant and got friendly with manager Kai Prasitchock. Eventually they became a couple. When Adorjan finished his project, he spent another year at the lake helping out at the restaurant. He and Prasitchock then moved to Rescue with the idea of opening a Thai restaurant, using her family recipes for the menu. They ended up renovating a space that once housed a Mexican restaurant and opened in late January.
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Word of mouth spread throughout Cameron Park’s restaurant-hungry community. “It’s grown way faster than we can keep up with,” Adorjan said on the phone later. “We don’t have a walk-in cooler, so we shop every day, which is a positive for the freshness of the ingredients.”
Menu: Among the many standard Thai items are noodle- and curry-based dishes, crab Rangoon, veggie tempura, summer rolls, tofu, pad-see-ew and more of the usual suspects.
Price point: Given the portion sizes and freshness of ingredients, lunch is a bargain at $8-$9, including salad and white rice. Dinner ranges from $10-$17.
Ambiance: Adorjan and his team did a remarkable job of turning a musty, long-shuttered space into a bright, clean restaurant with lots of wood, windows and artistic decorations.
The most striking part of the dining room is the two colorful wall murals set in Thailand, one showing a beach scene, the other depicting village life along a river. “My brother Dave (Adorjan) came in when we were (remodeling) and said, ‘I’m going to do something for you,’ and painted the murals,” Adorjan said.
Drinks: Thai, craft and mainstream beers are on offer, along with 10 red and 10 white wines. “We plan to stock more local wines from the foothills,” Adorjan said. Add Thai iced tea and coffee, coconut juice and organic apple juice.
Service: Adorjan himself waited on our table (no, he did not know why we were there), quickly delivering dishes as they came from the kitchen and returning several times to refill iced tea glasses and ask about our needs. Pretty good for a construction guy wearing a gimme cap.
First impressions: A fresh green salad showed up dressed in luscious peanut sauce, followed by crispy-creamy triangles of fried tofu, which came alive when dipped in sweet sauce. We asked for a condiments caddy, and liberally scooped super-hot green chilies, red chili paste and jalapeño coins onto our plates as lunch progressed. After all, this is a Thai restaurant, where heat rules. All the dishes were artfully presented, turning them into colorful eye candy.
Next up were steamed dumplings topped with cilantro and crushed peanuts, with a dark sauce that tasted of soy and hoisin. Inside the tender dumpling skins were essentially meatballs that were surprisingly dense, but tasty.
Crunchy, shredded papaya joined cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and green beans in a sweet-vinegary dressing for the papaya salad, but we found no spice or heat in the otherwise satisfying dish. Maybe we should have asked for some. Instead, we tossed on a spoonful of those green chilies and then drank lots of iced tea to put out the fire.
Strips of tender chicken breast in thin green curry sauce (with a background of heat) joined green poblano and red bell peppers, and – surprise – chunks of eggplant. We spooned it over white rice and liked it well enough. We did the same with the more substantial (but chewy) garlic-pepper pork, a dish loaded with broccoli, carrot and cabbage, and topped with cilantro, delivering a solid combination of flavors.
“The sauces show plenty of expertise and help carry whatever food they’re teamed with,” said one lunch pal, Marcy Conti, a skilled home cook and retired information-technology manager.
Try it if: You live in the area and hanker for a new restaurant experience, or you regularly seek Thai food.
Forget it if: You don’t want a bunch of mixed vegetables and strange sauces interfering with your supper.
Where: 3181 Cameron Park Drive, Cameron Park
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays