Dine in or take home enchanting dishes from Jasmine Thai
The surest sign of a good Asian restaurant isn’t always a dining room of packed tables. Sometimes you have to look at what goes out as much as who comes in. Sitting near the front of Jasmine Thai, the cozy, low-lit Thai restaurant on 96th Street, we rarely saw the foyer empty of a customer waiting for a takeout order. Some chatted with one of the owners (Ann and Vern Wright), often sharing a story about how they’d moved to town and searched long and hard for a good Thai restaurant. Some sported accents, making us wonder if they’d traveled over land and sea just for a few Styrofoam-packed delicacies from this Northside eatery.
The red curry duck ($11.99) won out both for its promise of flavor and its reasonable price.
But that’s the kind of feeling Thai food inspires. Chinese food conjures comfort; Japanese, a sort of quiet elegance or trendy self-satisfaction. Only Thai summons passions, even factions, and draws devotees across distances, seeking the kind of Thai food they first fell in love with. Compromising little to Western tastes, Jasmine Thai will impress even the most exacting Thai fans with its fresh, attentive approach. It’s no wonder diners have found a home at Jasmine — and that they would want to take the food home as well. Everything seems authentic here. Don’t expect plastic chairs or Plexiglas tabletops. Instead, dark woods, soft pink tablecloths and colorful tapestries transport you far from the strip mall that houses this elegant restaurant. Every plate or bowl seems designed for the dish that comes in it: a flower-shaped saucer for a dome of pearly rice, a fish-shaped platter mounded with stir-fried garlic shrimp. Our waitress was sometimes shy to offer suggestions, but for appetizers, she said the mieng kum ($6.95) were the most authentically Thai item on the list. Almost as sweet as a dessert, these curious rolls mingled dried ginger, lime peel, shallots, dried shrimp and peanuts on tender leaves of green lettuce. A special Thai sauce pushed the sweetness quotient even farther, though its slight tang cut against the crunchy filling. But we couldn’t help wondering if crêpes with eggs and plum sauce or rice sticks and noodles might have been a better way to start off our meal. Thankfully, just about everything else beguiled our palates with a wonderful balance of sweet and savory flavors. Soups, in particular, were delicious and rich, and though our waitress missed an order for tom kha gai ($3.95/small), it was worth the wait for this straightforward, delicious elixir of coconut milk in a tangy citrus broth with tender chicken, mushrooms and the crisp undertone of lemongrass. A bit racier was the tom yum seafood ($4.99/small) with an ocean’s worth of squid, shrimp and white fish in a spicy stock flavored with lime leaves and cilantro. Thankfully, someone came by with water or a pot of comforting jasmine tea about as often as we needed to soothe our tongues. Spicing for entrees comes in mild, medium and hot, and our waitress made sure we ordered exactly what we wanted. Among some dinner-sized salads, curries, fried rice and more typical noodle dishes, the red curry duck ($11.99) won out both for its promise of flavor and its reasonable price. Thin shreds of duck swam in rich, mildly spiced coconut gravy with a mélange of flavors from pineapple, green peppers, lime leaves and basil. Only some whole grape tomatoes didn’t really cook down into the sauce the way cut tomatoes would. Under the list of “Ultimate Seafood,” the three delights ($13.99) could have fed a small family with so much shrimp, beef and chicken. Ordered “hot,” this was, indeed, on the fiery side, though not something only for circus performers or sideshow freaks. Baby corn, pineapple and the same grape tomatoes made this a healthy dish as well. Apologizing for a very brief list of desserts, our waitress then bragged at the size of the banana fritter ($3.50). She wasn’t exaggerating. Where Asian desserts can sometimes be a tad bland, this was a dream dessert for the kid — or the adult — in anyone. Slices of banana were wrapped in pastry — perhaps won-ton skins — and perfectly deep-fried. These were then topped with two whopping scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey. Good thing we split this one. If “one good Thai restaurant” is enough to make a city “livable,” as we overheard one takeout customer say, then Indy, with over a half-dozen good Thai places, is doing pretty well by its citizenry. In just a couple of years, Jasmine Thai has cornered its share of the local Thai-loving population. It’s even hoping a few shoppers at a low-carb market next door will be convinced by its claim in the window that “Thai food is low carb.” Whether or not that assertion includes noodles or fried rice, Jasmine Thai serves up plenty of health for the body and soul. Jasmine Thai 4825 E. 96th St. 848-8950 HOURS Monday–Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday: noon to 8:30 p.m. Food : 4 Stars Atmosphere : 3.5 Stars Service : 4 Stars