There are plenty of Thai restaurants around town; it’s the fourth-most-popular restaurant category in Seattle (after pizza parlors, Chinese and Italian). Several fine examples of Thai cuisine are available in Madison Park down through Madrona.
Until 1987, there was not a single restaurant that was both vegan and Thai. Then along came Araya Pudpard, who opened Araya’s Place in the University District. An outpost in Bellevue followed. Not one to dally or tarry, Pudpard would move the restaurants periodically (whenever her landlord would sell the building) but would always stay in the neighborhood. The old Bellevue location may yet return, once the high-rise condo is complete.
Her daughter Cheryl is currently operating an Araya’s outpost in Hollywood, Calif., and her son Fang (along with his wife) has just taken over the former Rover’s property at 2808 E. Madison St., where Thierry Rautureau dispensed French haute cuisine for more than two decades. Yes, the irony that a vegan establishment succeeds Madison Valley’s monument to foie gras is not lost.
In 2011, the Food Network’s show about spicy food, “Heat Seekers,” taped a segment at the U-District Araya’s restaurant, featuring its Drunken Mushroom stir-fry. To quote the menu, it’s “classic Thai spicy, wide rice noodles stir-fried in garlic and chili, with veggies, beef, Portobello and other mushrooms.” The other mushrooms are shiitake and white button mushrooms, and there’s also red and green bell peppers, asparagus and fried Thai basil.
Start with a Tom Yum, a traditional Thai hot-and-sour soup, flavored with lemongrass and lime leaves, studded with mushrooms and tofu; an order serves the entire table.
I also enjoyed the avocado curry, which featured mock-chicken seitan, fried tofu, bell peppers and basil in creamy green-curry sauce enriched with coconut milk.
Save room for at least a bite of dessert: The chocolate bar is outstanding.
The story of Jae’s Asian Bistro (2801 E. Madison St.) goes the other way; it’s the result of a breakup, not an expansion.
Thoa Nguyen, the enterprising woman who launched Thoa’s (where Aragona is today) and the Wabi-Sabi sushi bar in Columbia City, also had several restaurants named Chinoise (on Queen Anne, in Wallingford and in Madison Valley).
Nguyen ran the Madison Valley location with the help of veteran chef Jae Ahrens, but when she opted for a new Chinoise spot in the Issaquah Highlands, Ahrens stayed behind and gave the place his own name.
It still has the lovely, quiet patio out back, the same inviting sushi bar in the front and a menu packed with pan-Asian staples from bento boxes and sushi dinners to wok-sautéed curries and Vietnamese rice-noodle salad bowls.
Thai Ginger (1841 42nd Ave. E.) is the Madison Park outpost of a chain of five mainstream Thai places (the others are downtown and on the Eastside). There are plenty of noodle dishes, including Phad Thai, but there’s also an interesting rice noodle soup called Guay Thew Naam.
There are also the usual red, green, and yellow curries and an outstanding version of Bathing Rama with sautéed fresh spinach, your choice of chicken or tofu and topped with a mild peanut sauce. For my taste, it was a bit bland, so I was grateful for the quartet of hot sauces.
Up in Madrona, Naam Thai offers dine-in, take-out and catering from its storefront at 1404 34th Ave. — blond wood, plenty of light and, in the alcove windows, what the owners dub “day beds” (cushions on an upholstered platform) where you can stretch out and relax. Just remember to take your shoes off first.
A half-dozen lunch combinations are offered for under $10. Thai street food (curries, noodles) are the best bets.
Owners Deedee Techa and Kannika Treerittaweesin have done well in the location, after a string of more pretentious eateries failed to catch on.
Other food news
The latest word from Ethan Stowell is that he’s taking a breather before building out Noyer, the ultra-high-end restaurant project in the courtyard behind Red Cow (1423 34th Ave.). He just opened Chippy’s in Ballard, which came hard on the heels of Red Cow, which, in turn, came right behind [mkt]. He’s earned a summer off.
Cormac Mahoney, late of Madison Park Conservatory, has landed a job as chef at Canterbury Ale & Eats, a pub “coming soon” to Capitol Hill (534 15th Ave. E.). If the address and the name sound familiar, it’s because there was a Canterbury Alehouse at that spot for nearly 40 years.
The new owners are James Snyder and Mike Meckling (a part-owner of Neumos). They were originally planning to open by late May — that looks doubtful.
In the meantime, Mahoney (who won the Food & Wine award for Best New Chef in 2012) is working on a menu said to include Steak Tartar with “bone-marrow tots,” a Canterbury banger sausage and deep-fried cheese curds.
RONALD HOLDEN is a restaurant writer and consultant who blogs at Cornichon.org. To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.