Chomp: Noot's offers proper Thai foods
By by todd firstname.lastname@example.org
Sept. 28, 2011 at 4:28 a.m.
With Victoria's only two Thai restaurants having arrived in the last six months, it seems we're just getting acquainted with a cuisine our big city neighbors have enjoyed for decades. But if we've stumbled in late to the Bangkok bash, at least we've arrived in Siamese style.
Noot's Thai Kitchen is a long overdue addition to a local Asian food scene that, until recently, has been dominated by supersized, Americanized Chinese buffets.
Noot's and its downtown rival, Tru Thai, are a study in contrasts, and to taste them consecutively - as I had lunch at one and dinner at the other - is to appreciate how diverse a national cuisine can be. Tru Thai offers a delicious, if limited, menu of Bangkok street fare, at times searingly hot, served in heaping, family-sized portions in a modest setting.
At the opposite end of town, Noot's presents itself as the more "proper" restaurant of the two. The menu is a collection of tried-and-true dishes, arranged in artful presentations, from different regions of Thailand. There are colorful coconut curries from the south, minty meat laab ($8.95) from Isan, crowd-pleasing desserts like F.B.I. (fried bananas with ice cream, $6.95) and - my favorite - sticky rice with mango ($6.95). The spring rolls ($7.50), I found disappointing, little more than an ordinary salad wrapped in rice paper.
Noot's spice-level is satisfyingly steamy, but it's a step down from some of the tongue-branding meals I've happily endured at Tru Thai.
I've always been fond of chow fun - those broad, slippery noodles in the Chinese style - and Noot's Pad Kee Mao is a good way to enjoy them. Nesting in the mess of noodles are tomato chunks cooked to soft-but-not-soggy, little maroon flavor bombs timed to burst with spiced juice on first bite. Pepper-chili sauce is available on the side, and if you think you can handle it, you should give it a go. It's a nice shot of flavor.
Although I didn't take advantage of it, I was impressed by Noot's willingness to improvise. Chef/co-owner Keson Perry offers to cook for her customers any Thai dish that's not on the menu. This cheerfully proffered deal naturally brought out the mischief-maker in me. For a moment, I was tempted to request one of the varieties of deep-fried grasshoppers or crickets I'd seen consumed on streets all across Thailand. But with similar critters in abundant supply here in tropically humid Victoria, I declined to test Mrs. Perry's powers of culinary invention. I wisely stuck with the delicious (and pest-free) Pad Kee Mao. Maybe next time, I'll request something off-menu, like a whole, steamed fish.
The worst part about Noot is finding the place. Buried in a collection of a mini-mall shops along the Navarro strip, it doesn't yet have a sign. Look for a building that reads "RESTAURANT" and you're there.