Front Street in downtown Issaquah is diverse, culinarily speaking. BBQ, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, pastrami and seafood restaurants are within easy walking distance of each other. And, of course, in a class by itself is Max’s World Cafe.
A friend and I were headed to Max’s today for lunch when we spotted Coconut Thai Restaurant, across the street from the Darigold complex. On an impulse, we decided to give Coconut a try.
Even as we looked over the lunch menu, our eyes migrated toward the regular menu. It immediately became apparent that this was no typical Thai menu. Coconut Tawai, for instance, is a salad consisting of “steamed eggplant, green bean, bean sprout, spinach, and carrot in special homemade coconut dressing,” with your choice of chicken or tofu ($11) or shrimp ($13). One of the appetizers is Flute Roll ($8), fried rice paper rolls stuffed with shrimp, crab, cream cheese and cheddar (!), served with basil cream sauce. We decided to split Sriracha Ruam Mit Noodle ($14) and Pork Belly Cinnamon ($14). Chef specialties are denoted by a dual coconut symbol. Would the food justify the higher than normal prices?
The noodle dish is a savory combination of lots of things (ruam mit loosely translates to ‘the works’). Fried wonton skin strips virtually hides the goodies underneath—wide rice noodles, calamari, shrimp and chicken mixed with fluted carrot coins, chopped basil, green onion, bits of chile, egg and lots of shredded iceberg lettuce to give the dish crunch. Without the thick and spicy sweet sauce, served separately in a little dish, the noodles are very savory, a wonderful blend of flavors and textures; they’re no less impressive with the sauce (☆☆☆½).
Pork belly seems to be the poster child of restaurants these days. Asians have been featuring it in dishes for a long time (e.g., Chinese dongpo, Japanese kakuni). The addition of cinnamon and five-spice to Coconut’s entrée was intriguing because I normally associate the spices with Vietnamese cooking. But I’m no expert. What a stunning dish, pork belly braised to succulent perfection and hinting of those warm spices, combined with baby spinach and cilantro. The sauce is an umami bomb with a touch of sweetness. The dipping sauce was likewise served in a little dish, a bracing combination of lime juice, garlic and chiles. Friend normally doesn’t fancy fatty dishes but he had no problems scarfing this down. Perfection (☆☆☆☆). The pork comes with a side order of steamed rice. We left some rice uneaten by meal’s end. Our waitress noticed this and proceeded to mix a portion of rice into the sauce, scooped some up in a spoon, drizzled dipping sauce on top, and encouraged one of us to eat it. That task fell on me. Yummy.
The waitress asked if we wanted to try a Coconut Cupcake ($3.50). Hmm, why not? This is another marvel coming out of the kitchen. Lightly sweetened, the cake was topped with shredded coconut and little dabs of greenish custard. Another waiter explained that it was made with pandanus leaves, which explained why there was a definite vanilla-like aroma. In fact, our waitress made sure we smelled the cupcake first. Inside the cupcake was a core of the same pandan custard. I’m not particularly a cupcake fan, but I would order this again in a heartbeat (☆☆☆☆).
Seldom does a chance restaurant surprise with great food. Based on the two dishes we ordered, Coconut Thai could be one of those rare finds. Yes, prices are somewhat higher, but there is a lot of care, labor and attention to detail that go into the dishes. Opened only a month ago, Coconut Thai won’t take long for diners to take notice.
Update (12-15-15): I had to bring my wife here for dinner. The two dishes we ordered did not disappoint.
Lord Noodle (kway teow lord, $11.95) uses the same wide rice noodles as Sriracha Ruam Mit. The presentation is entirely different though, topped with seasoned bamboo shoots, minced chicken, bean sprouts, fried tofu, green onions, cilantro and fried garlic. The pasta is steamed which makes it less oily than its stir-fried cousin, pad see eiw (also on Coconut’s menu). The ‘house sauce,’ savory and sweet, seems like the traditional combination of dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, nam pla and sugar. A wonderful noodle dish (☆☆☆½).
An additional chef’s special is Coco Lamb Shank Curry ($17.95). This is another masterpiece from the kitchen, a curry featuring fork-tender lamb shank in a rich, unbelievably complex Massaman curry sauce tasting of warm spices, slightly tart and mildly spicy. The curry begged to be lapped over rice, which is exactly what we did. The lamb shredded with the slightest prodding. Pineapple added a nice fruity note and fried basil leaves and diced red bell pepper, crunch. Instead of traditional peanuts, the surprise was tiny, soft-textured chickpeas that seemed odd in a Thai dish but in keeping with its Muslim-influence. Outstanding (☆☆☆☆).
|Coconut Thai Restaurant
660 Front Street N, Suite B
Isssaquah, WA 98027