Don’t judge a restaurant by its (old) cover!

Don’t judge a restaurant by its (old) cover!

Pearl Bay Thai & Asian Cuisine makes new, tasty home

 By Brandy King

There’s a website currently on hiatus called Not Fooling Anybody that would snap photos of former chain restaurants that had been very awkwardly converted into doctors’ offices, ethnic restaurants, etc., without really bothering to change the recognizable design of the former tenant.  The half-dozen restaurants that have gone in to the building that now houses Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen on Woodman? Well, it’s not hard to tell that was once a run for the border. That website is the first thing I thought of when we came across Pearl Bay Thai & Asian Cuisine in Fairborn.  It’s extremely unassuming, in front of a half-empty shopping center, inhabiting what was clearly a Lee’s Famous Recipe. They never even bothered to get rid of the drive-thru menu kiosk. We were in the neighborhood and the Mexican joint next door looked even more questionable, so we decided to give this a try. Our first visit was much earlier in the year and Thai food seemed like the perfect thing to warm our bones. Our server on that visit was cute as a button and knew the menu back and forth. I told her the flavors I was craving, and she suggested the Massaman Beef – a mild (for most people) curry with heavy Persian influences, and it was nothing short of perfect. My husband had a scalding hot chicken dish of some sort, which he also really enjoyed.

We raved about Pearl Bay to friends anytime it came up, but rarely find ourselves in that area anymore and hadn’t managed to make it back there for several months. I couldn’t think of a better reason to try some new dishes there than to pass this little gem on to you, dear eaters.

I think because the place is so quiet, and such a well-kept secret, I expected the very same server.  We got someone different, but I did recognize one of the cooks from last time. The inside of the restaurant doesn’t look like a Lee’s. It’s decorated with the dark woods, deep colors and flecks of gold that you would expect from most Asian restaurants. It’s small, but seating is ample and it’s been very clean on both visits. Our “new” server was familiar with about half the menu (even helping us pronounce a few things we were unfamiliar with), very friendly and very quick. I liked the Massaman beef from our last visit so much that I learned to make it at home, so it wasn’t as difficult to stray from that and try something new.

We started with the Roti Canai, a puffy, crunchy bread served with curry sauce. The flavor of the bread was nothing new, but the texture was interesting – like phyllo dough before all of the moisture has been baked out of it. The dipping sauce was pretty clearly broth from the Massaman curry, and they made a good pair.

I think my husband likes going out for Thai more than anything because he orders food so hot that I never want to trade bites or split entrees with him. He ordered Mee Goreng – egg noodles stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, tofu and veggies in a spicy paste. I figured if the last dish I ordered was printed in black and made me sweat, ordering something in red was not for me, so I went with the Roasted Peanut Chicken at our server’s recommendation. Their spice levels here run from one to five. The Mister went for a three, while I smartly stuck to a one because I’m a sissy. Though I didn’t try his, he raved about it as he sweated through the dish. Even the spice emanating from his plate brought tears to my eyes. My dish, yet again, was pitch-perfect. Not skimpy on the meat, plenty of veggies and peanuts and nicely sauced. It reminded me of a spicier version of a Japanese curry that my sister makes, which is a pretty major compliment. The menu at Pearl Bay, while devoid of sushi, covers enough Thai and Malaysian territory for traditionalists, while still throwing a bone to the unadventurous eaters with dishes like Honey Chicken and Drunken Noodles.

This is also the first place I’ve spotted bubble tea in the Dayton area. I’m never really looking for it, but hipsters and food snobs tend to rave about it, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. From what I gather, “bubble teas” are actually an Americanized catchall term for nearly any beverage with Boba, which are colorful little balls of tapioca. I’m not a tea drinker, but you can get smoothies and Thai iced coffee with Boba at Pearl Bay as well, so I opted for the coffee. It’s even served with a cleverly cute giant pink straw that allows the boba to come through as you drink it. As cute as the straw may be, I can tell you that people with texture issues are definitely not going to like the slimy little balls of tapioca. There are a good number of food trends that upon trying them (often pre-disposed to disappointment), I remember that everyone has very different tastes and dislikes. You say tomato – I say, “That’s nasty.”

For an appetizer, two entrees and three beverages, our bill was only $30. That’s at least 25 percent cheaper than most of the other restaurants in the Dayton area specializing in Thai food, and the food is just as good. Venture out a little bit, eaters. The best noodles you’ve ever had could be hiding inside an old chicken joint.

Pearl Bay Thai & Asian Cuisine is located at 133 E. Dayton-Yellow Springs Rd. in Fairborn. For more information, call 937.879.7880 or visit pearlbayrestaurant.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Brandy King at BrandyKing@daytoncitypaper.com and visit her blog, foodvsface.com. Caricature by Jay King.


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