My wife and I made arrangements to have dinner with a couple of friends at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants (Shanghai Cafe), but when we arrived, a sign posted on the door informed that the kitchen was undergoing renovation for another two days. One of our friends then suggested Thai Ginger, right around the corner in the Factoria area of Bellevue. Until three years ago, I had been a regular customer there, but for a variety of reasons, among which was the appearance of other very high quality Thai restaurants, I had stopped going. Likely another reason was its ridiculously small parking lot right off the major thoroughfare, Factoria Blvd, that can try the patience of Job. Still, one of Thai Ginger’s outstanding dishes in the past was chicken cashew nut against which I compared other restaurants’ versions.
Since the Factoria location, others have sprung up in the Seattle area (Redmond Town Center, Issaquah, Madison Park and Pacific Place), a scale of expansion often accompanied by declining or inconsistent quality. (I’d gone to the RTC branch, but its extreme noise level turned me off completely.) On getting seated, I noticed immediately that the menu was new, its pages slickly laminated and menu items printed in a classy, artful sans serif font. You probably wondered if these “refinements” portend higher prices. And you’d be right. Their “signature” dishes hover around $15-$20. One thing that hasn’t changed is its full-view kitchen, staffed by several toqued and uniformed chefs. It’s impressive when they do stir-fries over mighty flames that tower over the woks, looking to the uninitiated like a kitchen fire.
On the menu was a noodle dish called phad woon sen, which I first tasted and loved at Thai Kitchen (also in Bellevue). It isn’t sweet like one of Thailand’s national dishes, phad thai, but rather savory, and using bean thread noodles instead of rice noodles. The noodles are tossed with fish sauce and one or more combinations of soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic and sugar, and are accompanied by egg and generous amounts of cut vegetables. Thai Ginger’s is very good (☆☆☆½), the best I’ve had since Thai Kitchen’s (which no longer makes it as I liked it). Though it had no egg, the dish boasted pork, crispy napa cabbage, red bell peppers, onion, snow peas and carrot discs skillfully trimmed as flower garnishes.
What seemed intriguing was halibut cheeks, listed under signature dishes. At $19 and only five cheeks, it’s rather pricey, but the penang curry cut with coconut milk was delicious, perfect for napping on rice, which all of us did. There were also subtle hints of herbs, possibly galangal, cilantro and lemongrass. Green beans cut into ¼” pieces, basil leaves and red bell pepper slices lent nice color and crisp texture. Four perfectly cooked asparagus spears topped off the entrée (☆☆☆).
Finally, we ordered their chicken cashew nut which had been my standard-bearer. It was as delicious as ever (☆☆☆½), Thai Ginger’s version using a spicy chile sauce that takes it beyond all others I’ve had locally, including an insipid and bland-by-comparison one at Noodle Boat, one of my favorite Thai restaurants.
It was good to get reacquainted with Thai Ginger. Now, if only they did something about that poor excuse of a parking lot.
3717 Factoria Blvd SE
Bellevue, WA 98006