Why Thai 9 is a perennial favorite
By Avery King
Photo: Panaeng curry with tofu and green beans at Thai 9 in the Oregon District
My girlfriend and I visited Thai 9 on a cold night in the middle of the week. The dining area was about half full when we arrived, but it was still early. The bar area was busy, but Bar Manager Brian Beecroft noted it was a recent surge. Thai 9’s bar is an often-underappreciated asset of the restaurant. It is offset from the dining area, which makes stopping in for a drink or two a pleasant experience. It also offers an equally pleasant waiting area for nights when the restaurant is near capacity.
Thai 9 prides itself on its beer list. The nine taps – probably not a coincidence – offer a mix of local beers as well as Belgian-style staples from Canadian brewer Unibroue. The Unibroue beers’ Belgian yeast strains, with their complex, spicy aromas, tend to pair especially well with Thai dishes. They also offer unique cocktails, all developed by Beecroft. I started the evening with a North Coast Class of ’88 – a hefty barleywine celebrating North Coast’s status as one of the first successful microbreweries (Great Lakes, Rogue, Goose Island and Ohio’s newest arrival, Deschutes, all share the same birth year). My girlfriend had the Bird Dog, a cocktail named after a member of the service staff. The Bird Dog, a blend of cucumber-infused vodka, mint-infused simple syrup, club soda and lime hints at spring and summer days yet to come.
After our aperitifs, we were shown to our table in the main dining room. Our server Donald was prompt and attentive. My dining companion and I are both frequent customers of Thai 9, but this was our first visit together. The experience allowed us to introduce each other to new dishes. We started dinner with edamame, my customary appetizer. Edamame is a traditional Asian starter consisting of steamed and lightly salted soybeans in their pods. We also ordered several starters from the sushi menu: the Mexican roll from the maki menu and conch from the nigiri menu.
The Mexican roll consists of shrimp tempura, scallions, iceberg lettuce and tomato in spicy sauce. The unconventional nature of the roll makes it work. While the combination does not sound like something you should ever consider at a sushi restaurant, the crisp lettuce echoes the crunch of the tempura and the acid from the tomato complements the spicy sauce.
The conch nigiri was a venture out of my sushi comfort zone. Frankly, the idea of conch sounded gross, but my “vegetarian” girlfriend convinced me to try it. (She rationalizes eating conch as not violating vegetarian standards because conch do not have a central nervous system and therefore no capacity for pleasure or pain. It doesn’t phase her that conch looks like a slug-like, slimy, amorphous mass.) Despite conch’s native form, as nigiri sushi it is surprisingly delicious. Although the white meat is a tad chewy, the flavor is light and delicate and is accented by the wasabi and soy sauce.
Main entrees are rated on a heat scale of one to nine (thus the “9” in Thai 9). Because we are wimps, we both ordered our curries as fours. We’ve both learned from experience the heat level at Thai 9 can be very relative, depending upon the day. She ordered the Panaeng curry with tofu. Panaeng curry, orange in hue, is comprised of coconut milk, kafﬁr lime leaves and green beans. The fried tofu and the green beans lend a crunchy texture to the dish. Curry and coconut milk have natural flavor affinities and the kaffir lime leaves give the dish a tiny hint of citrus. At a moderate spice level, there is some heat from the curry, but it is tempered enough to allow the flavors of the dish to shine.
I ordered the massaman curry, also with tofu – although I am decidedly not a vegetarian, Thai 9’s fried tofu is delicious and I order it in every dish I eat there. Massaman curry is coconut milk-based with morsels of carrots, onion, potatoes and peanuts. As with the Panaeng curry, the coconut milk and the curry paste blend to give the dish an exotic base. The potatoes, onions and carrots – all root vegetables – provide an earthy undertone that makes this dish a perfect comfort food for a cold winter’s evening. The peanuts blend easily into the dish, lending additional heft to the winter vegetables while also providing a contrasting crunch.
Thai 9 offers extensive dinner and lunch menus, with ample choices for all guests. Their extensive seating easily accommodates larger gatherings, although the restaurant can get busy so it’s best to call ahead for reservations.
Thai 9 is located at 11 Brown St. in the Oregon District. For more information, please call 937.222.3227 or visit thai9restaurant.com.