By Bernie Whitmore
A couple of friends and I easily managed to find the small strip mall just outside Holden’s commercial district. Upon first entering, we were invited to sit wherever we pleased, but then we were quickly ushered to a table that was in an area we would have chosen anyway.
One of my friends had never tried Thai cuisine before and wanted to know something about it. “They keep vegetables crunchy; sauces are light and healthy… the peanut seems almost iconic,” I shared. “But since we’re here, why not check out the menu and learn firsthand?”
We soon developed a meal strategy that took into consideration any allergies/”not interested in trying” items but still provided us all with a wide variety of menu entries to try.
Our first appetizer, Mini Thai Rolls, was served with a bowl of sweet and sour dipping sauce. Our server set them before us a bit to quickly and a few escaped their serving plate, but no great harm done. Not the most ornate of appetizers, the rolls ~ filled with finely ground pork, mushrooms and vegetables ~ were very good, making us glad we had rescued the few that had fallen onto the table.
The next appetizer we tried as a group was Thai Chicken Wings, and that’s precisely what they were, no surprises but very tasty: chicken wings marinated with herbs and a bit of spicy heat, then deep-fried ‘til the skin was crunchy. We paired them with ice cold, crisply refreshing Singha Beer and proclaimed the combination a success.
Next came the true test of a restaurant’s mettle, the entrees. First came Pad Thai, a large plate of creamy rice noodles that were stir fried with crushed peanuts, bits of fried egg and studded with shrimp ~ a signature dish Thai restaurants must offer. For crunch, there was a scattering of scallions and bean sprouts. The noodles glistened and the flavors were harmonious on the palate, proving that Thai Island had more than mastered this traditional recipe.
To contrast the mild Pad Thai, we chose Spicy Chicken “House Specialty.” Much more colorful than the other portions of our meal had been so far, it joined sautéed boneless chicken with artfully carved celery, sliced carrots and string beans ~ and, of course, the omnipresent peanuts ~ in a not-too-fiery prik pao sauce.
But my favorite of the evening’s entrees, Softshell Crab Ginger, is where the Island truly shone, more than living up to the catch words and phrases listed on its website: exotic ingredients, fusion cuisine, innovative. A surprising portion of four crabs was lightly battered, flash fried and mixed with sliced carrots and bright green peapods. The dish’s standout flavor, fresh ginger, was aromatic and wonderful; long shreds of it ignited the light brown sauce with their essence. I promptly spooned copious amounts onto my Pad Thai, chicken, and anything else in sight.
And then it was time for dessert. We decided to all share two different selections. First there was the Fried Banana dish, consisting of split bananas battered and fried crispy golden brown and garnished with ginger ice cream. One of our group happily observed, “Crispy on the outside ~ and the banana? Perfectly ripe.” Our next indulgence is an all-star from the Bean Counter: Chocolate Espresso Explosion. The elegant base of moist rich chocolate cake is topped with a layer of espresso mousse. Don’t even think twice ~ order it and savor its chocolaty deliciousness!
Now that I’ve finally experienced Thai Island, my advice is to go with a big appetite, head right for the most exotic entrees they offer, and leave a bit of room for a decadent dessert. And the more people you bring with you, the more opportunity for sharing meals and discovering new flavors.
Thai Island Restaurant
456 Main Street, Holden