Some folks go into the restaurant business because they can cook, others because they are good with people, and still others based on their ability to dream up a concept and sell it to the public.
At a humble, always friendly and often delicious Tahoe Park hideaway called A Bakery & Thai Food Restaurant, two out of three ain't bad.
Let's start with the name. Not only is it ridiculous – there is no bakery at this joint – but the owners hate it, too.
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But trust me on this one. Quirky can be good. After all, there are plenty of places out there with cool names (check out some of my recent reviews) and lousy food and, really, isn't it refreshing to find another eatery with a name that doesn't make sense?
I mean, you don't drop off your shirts at the French Laundry and, closer to home, Nationwide Freezer Meats never did manage to go nationwide – or even open a second location. I love Thai food – the variety of ingredients, the array of flavors and colors, the dynamic and engaging combinations – and this oddly named restaurant is cooking some of the best Thai food in town.
This version of A Bakery & Thai Food opened about six months ago when sisters Da Wungpoe and Nana Middee took over ownership from a friend. They relocated from Maryland, re-did the menu, stepped up the cooking and poured their hearts into making this business really sing. The only thing they didn't do was change the name.
For starters, this is one of the friendliest restaurants in town. One or both of the sisters will probably stop by your table to say hello, and if you're a repeat customer, they not only remember your face, they recall what you ordered last time.
That happened to us, possibly because my well-traveled companion with the less-than-hearty palate was relegated to gasping in response to the heat of one of his dishes.
If you can't handle spicy heat, don't attempt to establish your foodie credentials by ordering it "Thai hot." It's hard to look cool, it turns out, if you're eyes are bulging and you're practically pleading for someone to refill your water glass.
But before we get to that, let's start with the starters, which are cooked with style and accuracy. The "angel wings" – chicken wings stuffed with deftly seasoned crab meat – were delicious and fried perfectly golden brown. These wings reminded me of the excellent version found at Vientiane in West Sacramento.
The "emperor shrimps," like the wings, were also breaded and deep-fried with precision and proved to be a tender, tasty starter during one of three visits.
The coconut milk soup was also very good, full-bodied and fully flavored with that silky mouthfeel and a subtle but lingering bit of spiced heat on the finish.
The green papaya salad is one of the best in town, absolutely delicious, full of variety – peanuts, tomatoes, green beans and with just the right amount of heat from the lime dressing to remind you you're tasting authentic Thai preparations. If you want to know a little about Thai cuisine and what makes it so engaging, start with this salad.
The pad Thai, a classic litmus test to see if the kitchen is serious, was also up to standard, with ample amounts of rice noodles, bean sprouts and egg in a sauce that stands out from the ones I see at most good Thai restaurants in the area. This is a dish in which texture is just as important as flavor.
We found one of the best dishes here while visiting for lunch, which is an excellent bargain – there are 12 meals on the lunch menu for $6.95. The kra proa kai sub, an exotic minced chicken dish, showcases the Thai love of basil balanced with a powerful chili garlic sauce, all stir fried.
I also went in an entirely different direction, flavor-wise, by ordering the sweet and sour chicken, a colorful plate of red bell peppers, pineapples, tomatoes and sautéed cucumbers that proved to be more sweet than sour.
A Bakery & Thai Food is a large warehouse of a dining room that deserves to be filled with fans of consistently good Thai cooking. For now, perhaps because of the confusion with the name and the location in a strip mall near the upper end of Broadway, the restaurant is often well below capacity.
The décor – and thus, the charm – is a work in progress. There's not much about the space that really sets it apart from other Thai restaurants in town. Personalizing the decorating and steering clear of clichés will give the room some warmth and personality.
What really matters, however, is that these two sisters who grew up in Bangkok really know their food, really care about the cooking and, best of all, do so in such a friendly and sincere way. With that winning combination, everything about this place – even the name – seems more appealing.
A BAKERY & THAI FOOD RESTAURANT
6490 Broadway, Sacramento
Hours: Sunday-Monday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Beverage options: Beer and wine license
Vegetarian friendly: Yes
Noise level: Quiet
Overall: Three stars (out of 4 stars)
Even with a name that, A) doesn't have a ring to it and, B) doesn't make sense, the food and friendly service provide enough sizzle to help us appreciate the myriad flavors of Thai cooking done right.
Food: Three stars
The green papaya salad is excellent – intense yet well-rounded. The "angel wings" stuffed with crab show that the kitchen cares about precision and can handle subtle flavors, too. All of the main entrees we tried over three visits were first-rate, including the pad Thai, the eggplant and basil with shrimp, pad prik king (sautéed green beans in a red curry paste), the drunken noodles, and the complex flavors of a minced chicken dish called kra proa kai sub.
Service: Three stars
Low-key and attentive. The owners are very friendly and sincere. They were at the restaurant every time we visited, and they made us feel as if we were guests in their home.
Ambiance; Two stars
The room is relatively large and, though it shows attempts at decorating, could use more warmth, style and personal touches.
Value: Three 1/2 stars
The $6.95 lunch specials are a great value. For dinner, many of the full-sized dishes range from $8.95 to $12.95. Given the quality of the ingredients and cooking, this is a very good value.
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.