Sunday, August 22, 2010

BUS STORY # 198 (The Summerfest Detour)


It was Saturday. My wife was out of town, I had no commitments, and it seemed like a good day to take the bus to the Coop in Nob Hill to do my shopping.

I caught the 11 and transferred to the Red Line at Louisiana.

Once we pulled out of the San Mateo station, the driver announced we’d be detouring around Nob Hill due to Summerfest.

Well, dang.

I asked the driver how close to Carlisle he could drop me. He said it would be just east of Carlisle -- on Lomas. And he did. Later, coming back, I realized that he’d made a special stop just for me. Thank you, driver.

Carlisle and Lomas is a short mile to Carlisle and Central. The weather was overcast and the street barriers had eliminated most of the traffic. Throw in intrinsically interesting Carlisle itself and I had myself a pretty pleasant walk.

I got my shopping done and pondered my choices: 1) walk east to San Mateo and catch the Red Line to Louisiana; 2) walk west to Girard and count on there being a detour stop there for the Red Line; 3) walk back up Carlisle and just catch the 11 straight home.

Three sounded like the best bet. So I headed north on Carlisle across Central.

I was crossing the intersection where Campus turns into Copper when I saw a sign for a Thai restaurant where the old Ragin’ Shrimp used to be. I wandered over to see if it was open. It was. And even though I’d had no plans for lunch, I went inside.

I should explain here that I love Thai food. I love Thai food even more than I love Mexican food, which is saying something.

I should also explain there are a number of good Thai restaurants in town, just as there are a number of good Mexican restaurants. “Best” really means “my favorite” the way most of us use it, and we all are quite sure our favorites are the best.

For years, my favorite Thai restaurant was a place in the Southeast Heights called Thai Ginger. The neighborhood has been in decline for the last 30 years, and the restaurant was just a step up from your classic “hole in the wall.”

But the food! Early on, I ordered a house specialty called “Thai Ginger Perfect” -- a concoction of fresh vegetables and chicken sauteed with ginger and lightly spiced. After that, I could never bring myself to order anything else.

I didn’t go as often as I would have if left to my own devices. For a number of reasons (the atmosphere, the always small number of patrons whenever we were there, the neighborhood), my wife did not share my enthusiasm. And so I would stop only every month or two on my way home when my wife was working late.

When I started taking the bus four years ago, Thai Ginger fell off my map. It would have been right on the 140/141 route, but that would have meant an extra transfer -- the 50, the Red Line, the 140/141 down, then back up to the 11. It felt like more trouble than it was worth. And besides, my late-working wife would probably have beaten me home.

Recently, I drove by the old place. It had been repainted a deep lime green and renamed the Thai House. Well, dang. I felt I had let Thai Ginger and myself down. Another personal “best in Albuquerque” gone for good.

I’ve had some tasty meals at Orchid Thai, Siam Cafe, Thai Crystal, and the original Thai House in the University area (all easily accessible by bus), but none of them have been Thai Ginger.

So even though I had no plans for lunch, I found myself wondering if this new place could come close to the old Thai Ginger. And that, really, is why I went inside.

Inside was an airy, well-lighted little place, a big step up from the old Thai Ginger. I sat in the front room, at a table for two.

My server was a young guy, friendly, efficient, polite. Perfect English. I remembered the waitresses at Thai Ginger, and how I wasn’t sure their English went much beyond “number seven” from the menu.

I searched the menu and found Pad Khing which sounded like it could be close to the old Thai Ginger Perfect. While I was searching, a customer came in: a Buddhist monk! An Asian, older guy Buddhist monk. That reminded me of the first time I’d been to Yasmine’s and saw this old guy sitting at a table reading an Arabic newspaper. OK, I said to myself, authentic.

The Pad Khing presentation was lovely -- a dark, square porcelain plate had replaced the utilitarian white platter at the old Thai Ginger. I took a bite. Oh my goodness! This was really good. Fresh, flavorful, spiced just right -- oh my goodness! By the time I’d finished, I knew I’d found my new and worthy favorite. And I knew my wife would not have any trouble with the ambiance or the location.

I spoke with my server. How long had they been open? A month. How were they doing? Not bad, considering they hadn’t done any advertising yet. Most of their traffic was neighborhood folks, and they were spreading the word.

After paying the bill, I noticed framed reviews on the wall. Since they’d just opened, I was curious about those reviews. I became even more curious when I discovered every one of them was a (glowing) review of the old Thai Ginger. I went back to the register and waited for my server to reappear.

Turns out these are the same folks. Thai House down on San Mateo is family, but not this immediate family, not the Thai Ginger family. As is only natural, new recipes and different cooking styles have been implemented at Thai House. But, he told me, many of the old Thai Ginger patrons started asking his family to return to the restaurant business. And so they have.

As I walked outside on my way back to Carlisle, I passed the door to the kitchen. It was open. I recognized the cook. He and his wife were manning the woks. I stopped and called in that I was very happy to see they were back. They both smiled broadly and were gracious in their thanks.

Walking back up Carlisle to catch the 11, I realized if it hadn’t been for the Summerfest detour, I would have never found this reincarnation of Thai Ginger, now called Salathai.

And it’s less than a hundred yards from the Nob Hill station. What more could a Thai-food-loving busboy ask for?

4 Comments:

Blogger Top-of-the-Arch said...

Thanks for sharing another nice story. It made me think of a Thai restaurant in Webb City, Missouri. Great food, friendly people, yet a pleasant surprise - not what I would expect to find in Webb City!
I enjoy reading your stories/blog. Thanks again for sharing.
Have a good week and the rest of August.
TOTA

9:33 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thanks for your kind words, TOTA.

My wife and I made the journey to the top of the arch four years ago. Quite a ride, quite a view, and the building of the arch is quite a story. I don't recall where we ate, only that it wasn't Thai. But next time . . .

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Leela said...

Did you know thr alibi reviewed this restaurant this week?

4:09 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thanks, Leela. I found the link:

http://alibi.com/index.php?story=33384&scn=food

It is a very good review.

8:57 PM  

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