REVIEW: Thai Thai Restaurant – Love Love
Nate Gaddis is a 17-year food industry veteran. He gives his frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Hawai’i Island’s culinary scene.
All too often, Thai restaurants in America can be found cranking out a glut of uniformly generic dishes meant to satisfy western tastes, much like Chinese restaurants could be found doing in the 1970s and 1980s with mysteriously named dishes like “General Tso’s Chicken.”
The 19th-century general in question, Zuo Zongtang, would of course never have recognized the stuff, much less his own convoluted name on the menu (it was invented in the west in the 1950s).
But while some Chinese restaurateurs are managing to slowly awaken western palates to the diversity of their multi-regional cuisine (even chicken feet are a “thing” now), many of their Thai cousins are still stuck spooning out sugar-sweet curries and chicken sticks drenched in peanut sauce.
This is frustrating, given how deep the cuisine’s repertoire is. It’s like tossing out Elvis’s entire music catalogue and putting “Unchained Melody” on endless loop… there’s only so much sweetness one can take.
Thankfully, Thai Thai Restaurant manages to buck the bland uniformity that plagues so many of its peers, delivering instead a pleasing variety of dishes that demonstrate an impressive command of flavors.
Welcome to Thai Thai
Stepping into the dining room, your senses are immediately tipped off to what lies in store, as simmering pots of liquid in the kitchen release aromas full of ginger and Kaffir lime.
Still warming ourselves from the cold Volcano climate outside, we chose to dive into Thai Thai’s soup offerings, and immediately hit gold.
Our Tom Kha (coconut soup) and Tom Yum (spicy soup) both arrived piping hot, with the Tom Kha housed in its own self-warming stainless steel bowl, complete with gas flame.
The Tom Kha wasn’t overly sweet (thank you, lord), and featured ginger and fresh vegetables in a hot bath of light, savory coconut milk. If you’re used to coconut-based dishes being overly rich, give this a whirl. The citrus notes within make the palate sing without too much pucker-factor, making this stuff seriously addicting.
Our Tom Yum had a well-rounded base of spices and a richer broth offset by what we assume was Tamarind, and featured generous helpings of noodles. We recommend adding beef short ribs to this dish, as they pair well with the red chilis used here.
On another trip, we ordered up the Thai spring rolls, which arrived piping hot and served alongside a light sweet/sour dipping sauce mixed with liberal amounts of chopped peanut. Highly recommended.
Yes, They Have Curry
You’d think with all our earlier belly-aching over modern Thai curries that we weren’t fans of the stuff. Quite the contrary. Done well, curry is a miracle of the culinary world, and Thai Thai’s preparations are some of the most well-balanced we’ve tried anywhere.
Apart from being a must-have staple on the menu, Thai Thai’s red and green curries are quite well-executed, with pleasingly fresh vegetables and herbs cooked just right. Any protein will pair well here, and as a plus… the shrimp on offer were done flawlessly on both trips.
Meat choices occasionally arrived a bit firm, but with flavors like these, the transgressions were barely noticeable.
Speaking of flavors, their house-made “special curry” is a must try, with a pleasingly rich blend of peanut and spices.
Thai Thai manages to use a variety of chilis to great effect in a multitude of dishes, curries included. Even the mildest of dishes here is seductively laced with them, and the staff will happily provide house-made chili powders and sauces to help you get things “just right.”
However, if sweating your way through a romantic dinner is your kind of thing, then simply order your dishes “Thai Hot.” You and your spicy amore will soon see fire in each others eyes.
All in the Details
As you’ve probably gathered while reading this, Thai Thai’s vegetables are consistently fresh, making their many stir fries an excellent showcase for how little one needs to mess with mother nature when she’s at her peak. The delectable stir fried eggplant with garlic is a perfect example of this.
Thai Thai offers a wide variety of rice options, our favorite of which was their beautifully presented sticky rice, which arrives in little steamer baskets. Aromatic and glutenous, our only complaint about the stuff would be the extremely petite portions it is served in. If you’re a serious rice eater, be sure to request extra with your entrée.
For dessert, try the mango sticky rice, where fresh fruit and warm coconut milk pair nicely with sweet and creamy rice granules.
Much attention is paid to presentation here, with little details like a Philo basket for spring rolls, or carefully molded rice presentations helping to accent an already excellent dining experience.
A full bar is on hand for those looking to cool their palates with a nice cold one, and cocktails are available, though we didn’t partake on either visit (it is a half hour drive back to Hilo, after all).
The service is friendly, if not always zippity-quick at this establishment, and you’ll definitely pay for the quality you’re getting here (prices can run upwards of $15 to $20 for entrees).
It’s all well worth it though. Bring some friends and order up as many entrees as you all can handle. After a few bites, you’ll be in love.
Thai Thai Restaurant is located at 19-4084 Old Volcano Rd, Volcano, HI 96785. Phone: (808)-967-7969.
Hours of operation are from Thursday through Tuesday from 12 noon until 9 p.m., Wednesdays from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m.