by Alice Levitt
359 Lake Road, St. Albans 524-0999
Yes, there's a Thai restaurant in St. Albans. It's called Thai House. It's been there for almost three years. I was surprised, too. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I can get to the lovely dinner I enjoyed there Sunday night.
The chef-owner, Athai Oikweha, used to cook at Tiny Thai. The similarities are apparent in some dishes, but it's the divergences that define his somewhat more refined style. The bright-yellow satay is clearly a marinade very close to those at countless Thai eateries. What separates this one is the addition of a bowl of tangy cucumber sauce alongside the creamy peanut dip. Another appetizer, cucumber salad, features strips of the veggie sliced noodle-thin, then drenched in lime and just enough fish sauce to add a slightly musky, smoky foil to the citrus.
The pad thai's sauce will be familiar to Essex and Winooski diners, but the comparisons end there. This version of the sweet and nutty dish is brightened with the presence of red onions and long segments of scallion, cooked right in with the noodles, chicken and big, pillowy chunks of egg. The large menu also features plenty of entrees you are less likely to see at other area restaurants. I was tempted by the Paradise Fish — a whole fish deep-fried and topped with green apple and cashews — but ultimately went for the Honey Duck, described on the menu as "The famous of Thai House."
Like the fish, the whole animal is deep-fried. The meat is perfectly seasoned, and almost resembles a confit in crispness and flavor. It is chopped into strips and served with a selection of technicolor-fresh carrots, asparagus, green beans and broccoli. The honey sauce tastes just like it sounds, but with slight undertones of garlic and ginger.
It has become rarer and rarer for me to venture to an ethnic restaurant and see a dish with which I'm completely unfamiliar. I received that thrill at Thai House, with the wonderful Thai Custard Sticky Rice (pictured). One side of the plate is filled with a mound of dark purple glutinous rice, cooked in coconut milk. The other contains the green custard — actually slices of a warm, eggy souffle. This is east-west fusion at its most basic, and most delicious. I will return just for that sesame seed-topped dessert. And next time, I'll venture to Paradise.