Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Looking for a Restaurant Recommendation?

Just ask a pharmacist.

Nothing makes you feel more like an old person than having to interrupt your Canadian stay to make a run for the border just to get your prescriptions refilled. But we found ourselves driving from Fort Langley, BC to Ferndale, WA for just that purpose.

As we were leaving the Rite Aid Pharmacy, Chuck asked the pharmacist for a lunch recommendation. Without taking a breath, she responded, “Luxe Thai just up the street. Don’t judge it from the way it looks on the outside. The food is wonderful and I especially recommend the Basil Rice.” Now, if she had seen some of the places where we’ve eaten over the years, she would have known that the exterior appearance probably wouldn’t deter us. Again, she repeated: “Don’t judge it by its cover.”

So, after a brief walking and photo tour of beautiful downtown Ferndale (population 8,758), we headed off to lunch. Our friendly pharmacist was a bit too tough on Luxe Thai. Sure, the place was small, but there was nothing about its appearance that would deter an adventurous diner.

Luxe Thai is a very small restaurant that probably doesn’t seat more than thirty, which includes two tables outside. Opening at 11:00 a.m., it appears to be a very popular lunch spot and by 11:45 a.m. all the seats were full. We took this as a good sign. D├ęcor is basic, although there were Thai artifacts that reminded me of Anna and the King of Siam.

As soon as we were seated, the server (and I think he is also the owner) presented each of us with a cup of soup to eat while we studied the menu. The soup was pretty bland with broccoli, carrot, rotelli pasta, kidney and garbanzo beans, and red pepper in a clear and lukewarm broth.

I have to admit that I’m not that knowledgeable about Thai food. I know satays and spring rolls. I have had Pad Thai that I’ve enjoyed and some that I haven’t. I have eaten mussels in good Thai green curry and in bad green curry.

I can read a Chinese Hunan or Szechuan menu and have a pretty good idea of what I am ordering. Not so with Thai. This menu offered soups, salads, noodles, curries, fried rice, and entrees most with your choice of chicken, beef, or pork, or – for an additional charge – prawns or seafood.

Since I love basil, I decided to follow the pharmacist’s recommendation and ordered the Basil Fried Rice with Chicken. Chuck, also playing it safe, ordered the Cashew Nut with chicken. And when asked by the woman who took our orders (I think she is the wife of the owner) how spicy we wanted our food, both of us opted for medium spicy.

Chuck’s dish was a combination of tender chicken slices, onions, snow peas, carrots, mushrooms, bell pepper, baby corn, and mushrooms topped with cashews and seasoned with garlic, soy, and fish sauce. With this he received a small serving of nutty and fragrant jasmine rice. Accustomed to Chinese restaurant sauces that are invariably thickened with corn starch, the sauce here was thinner and more like a broth. The kitchen’s attention to detail is best illustrated by the carrots that were decoratively cut to resemble flowers. And, believe me, medium spicy was spicy enough.

I pride myself on my Thai-inspired fried rice, but this basil version has mine beat. Jasmine rice (double click the photo and see how each grain of rice is a separate entity) was combined with tender chicken slices, carrots (Why don’t mine look like flowers?), green peppers, onions, and cooked egg and flavored with pungent fish sauce. The combination of the salty fish sauce with the fragrant rice and sweet basil was outstanding. When I finished, I told Chuck, “I have a happy mouth.”

Our plan was for each of us to eat half of our meal and then switch – which we did. But we discovered that, as good as each of our meals was, the two weren’t complementary. So switch back we did, and we were both content.

The complimentary soup doesn’t rate more than 2.5 Addies, but Chuck’s Cashew Nut earned 4.0 Addies and my Basil Fried Rice merits the full 5.0 Addies.

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