There’s no shortage of Thai restaurants lining Broadway, possibly Sacramento’s most diverse street for international flavors. The new, pocket-sized Thai Farm House BBQ & Bistro bravely takes on the competition and does so in a half-hidden location kitty-corner from the Target on Riverside, much farther west than the main restaurant row.
Despite hosting just 25 seats and no permanent signage as of yet, Thai Farm House is off to a strong and busy start, with most tables full on our recent visits. The owners are Brad and Ice Promkesa: He’s a Sacramento-area native who works the front of the house; she’s a Thai-born chef who has worked in local restaurants for about 10 years. The young couple had their eye on opening a place of their own for several years, Brad said, with a view toward offering a fresher, lighter take on Thai cuisine.
Ice hails from northern Thailand, but the restaurant’s food is not specifically regional. A few dishes, however, come from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, such as the kao soi – one of the Thai Farm House’s standouts.
The menu, boasting more items than the restaurant does seats, is well-suited to both New Year’s resolutioners (lots of vegetarian and gluten-free options, both clearly noted on the menu) and those seeking comfort and warmth in the chilly season.
Noodle soups were particular winners in this regard. The ba mee keaw, for instance – a fortifying, garlicky broth with egg noodles, bok choy and pork and shrimp wontons – seems like it could cure whatever ails you. It was inadvertently omitted from our order (the only major service glitch we experienced on our three visits), so we took it with us and ate it later. The garlic in the soup was prominent but not overpowering, the chicken and shrimp wontons had a clean, appealing flavor.
Street noodle dishes like the warming kao soi also were delicious and revitalizing. The thick coconut-based curry sauce, with just a touch of heat, came with a tangle of tender egg noodles and a nest of crunchy fried noodles on top, plus pickled vegetables to give it a spark of acidity. We got it with tofu, which proved the ideal protein for soaking up the luxurious sauce.
Although the kao soi was rich, many of the noodle dishes were prepared with a light touch. Witness the pad see ewe. I have ordered this dish at other restaurants, and it has come out as a gloppy mess. Here, both the sweet soy sauce and the oil used to stir fry the wide noodles and vegetables were minimal, so the dish didn’t feel as heavy as it sometimes can. It’s a favorite dish for my kids, but they were left fending off their parents who wanted just one more nibble.
Appetizers also had the diners at my table politely battling for the last bites. The satay chicken was an extra juicy spin on the familiar dish, and came with a delectable peanut sauce. The pan-fried potstickers had a nice herbal flavor, and the fried calamari rings were super tender inside their peppery breaded coating.
Thai samosas, available from the specials menu, were intriguing: half-circle patties of crunchy pastry with spiced mashed taro inside. According to Brad, this appetizer is better known as curry puffs in Thailand, but the Promkesas chose to use the name samosas because they thought it would be more familiar to their clientele. The savory pastries were milder, sweeter and flatter than the familiar Indian appetizer of the same name, and hard to stop eating. Sides of roti, a fried flatbread, tasted like savory doughnuts and also featured a name better known from south Asian cuisine, though this style of bread is widespread across Thailand. I tried the roti twice: On one visit, it was a bit too greasy; on the second, it was fried to chewy-crisp perfection.
For those looking to increase their plant intake after all the holiday splurging, Thai Farm House has a good selection of salads. The som tum (green papaya salad) had crunchy shreds of its lightly sour main ingredient, plus shreds of carrot and other vegetables such as green beans. Bright dressing, mint leaves and a sprinkling of peanuts finished the dish. All that was good, but I was underwhelmed by the pallid butter lettuce under the main event; the bland leaves added nothing to the salad, though it did make it seem bigger.
An excess of lettuce plagued a few other dishes, including the lahb (meat-based salad) which we tried with ground chicken. Though the sour-spicy dressing and toasty flavor of rice powder and dried chiles harmonized nicely, the chicken got a little lost in the over abundant greenery. The promise of the restaurant’s name – Farm House – and its stated emphasis on local produce had me hoping for more flavor and variety from some of the vegetables (though admittedly this isn’t the best season for produce).
Vegetables were more on display in “entrees” section of the menu, which offers stir-fries, curries and fried rice. The pad graprow, which we got with chicken, had a zippy chile-garlic sauce, crisp-tender green beans and aromatic basil leaves, but the slices of chicken breast were dry and tasted curiously bland. I don’t think I have ever complained before that Thai food was under seasoned (it’s a rare for restaurant food in general), and it took me a while to realize that this stir-fry needed salt.
The pad himmaparn, sampled on another visit, was better balanced, with perfectly tender chicken, lots of onions and bell peppers, and the snap of cashews in a roasted-chile sauce.
The back of the menu is where the kitchen’s specialties and more unusual dishes are listed, so be sure to read to the end. I was skeptical about but won over by the avocado curry, with its silky, gently hot green sauce and chunks of satiny avocado alongside juicy chicken and vegetables.
The kanha moogrob, crispy pork belly stir-fried with Chinese kale and garlic sauce, was another hit, with the fatty meat cooked to a golden-brown crunch and offset by the bitter tang of the kale. From the specials board, the Siam salmon dish – wild-caught Alaskan salmon with sauteed vegetables and rice – was appealing, but the salmon was a touch dry.
Although BBQ is part of the restaurant’s name, there are just a few grilled dishes, but they’re well worth a place on the table. I loved the Crying Tiger, its juicy strips of grilled beef accompanied by a spicy lime-soy sauce rounded out with the distinctive toasty flavor of rice powder. I wanted a jar of that sauce to take home and put on, well, everything.
There are a few wines and beer on offer, but Thai iced tea and coffee might be the way to go here, as they can double for dessert – though the black sticky rice with mango and fried coconut ice cream (they use Gunther’s) is an excellent way to end a meal.
The Promkesas clearly have a good sense of food and flavor. Despite a few uneven dishes, Thai Farm House won me over with its tiny charm, not to mention that kao soi. It’s worth venturing slightly off Broadway’s beaten track to give this newcomer a chance.
Email Kate Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @washingtonkate
Thai Farm House BBQ & Bistro
1049 Broadway, Suite 40, 916-382-9448
Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily.
Beverage options: Limited selection of beer and wine. Bottled soft drinks, Thai iced tea and coffee as well as juices are among the nonalcoholic choices.
Vegetarian friendly: Yes, with options clearly marked on menu.
Gluten-free options: Yes, with options clearly marked on menu.
Noise levels: Can be loud, especially near the counter, when the restaurant is busy, but conversation remains possible.
Ambiance: A pocket-sized shopping-center space that could be ultra-bland has been nicely made over, with a sleek (if still slightly bare) feel.
Tiny but worthy, Thai Farm House BBQ & Bistro offers a personal, fresh-tasting spin on both familiar and less-well-known Thai dishes, with a welcoming air from the friendly young owners.
Although standard curries and stir-fries are on offer and well-executed, look to some of the dishes that aren’t as often found on American-style Thai menus. Noodle soups, avocado curry, crispy pork belly and grilled dishes such as Crying Tiger (grilled beef) are all winners.
Service – nearly all from co-owner Brad Promkesa on our visits – is attentive and welcoming, but the small space and equally small staff means sometimes waits for food can be longer than expected. Charm and honest effort make up for it.
Prices ($8.95 to $10.95 for entrees, a couple dollars less for appetizers) are very reasonable, especially given the care of preparation and presentation.