Vashon’s Smashing Thai Restaurant: May Kitchen

From the outside, you would never guess what the inside is like. Curtains are perpetually drawn over windows on the storefront that’s half sheathed in plywood, half in brick, milk chocolate in color. There is likewise no indication that a restaurant occupies the space, let alone a Thai one. A small sign written in Thai and two elephant statues on the roof are the only revealing clues. More than these anomalies, the restaurant name is nowhere to be seen. But, the business is May Kitchen + Bar. Once you step inside for dinner (no lunch is served), you get atmospherically transformed to another world, surrounded by exquisite teak and mahogany paneling and furnishings that exude understated elegance and attention to detail. May Kitchen is the pride and joy of chef and owner May Chaleoy, who hails from Bangkok but now lives in nearby Burton on the island.

may kitchen

I had heard good things about May Kitchen over the past few years, not the least of which has been praise from some national publications. Its location on Vashon Island, a 20-minute ferry boat ride from West Seattle, limits the crowds that might otherwise swamp the restaurant, but many Seattleites have made the crossing to eat here. Even so, on any given night, the place will be packed, mostly with locals. May Kitchen is located on Vashon Highway, near the most popular corner in the town of Vashon at the intersection of the highway and SW Bank. My wife and I were on the island to visit good friends over the Vashon Island Strawberry Festival weekend. On the occasion of celebrating one of their birthdays, we at last had an opportunity to eat at May’s.

Festivities started with excellent cocktails and two outstanding appetizers. The first is probably their most famous. Imagine an airy mound of flash-fried watercress piled high in a nest of rice flour-battered goodness, and you have yum phak boong. By itself, the watercress was unseasoned, bland actually, but light and very crispy. But, pieces torn off by hand and dipped into a delicious, mildly spicy tamarind sauce made me swoon. A unique dish, unforgettable and deservedly acclaimed (☆☆☆☆).

Yum phak boong
Yum phak boong

Papia phak sot finds moistened rice paper wrapped around thin rice noodles, mint and cilantro, sprinkled with fried shallots. Again, an outstanding sauce, this one also tamarind-based and slightly sweet, helped make these fresh spring rolls a superstar (☆☆☆☆).

Papia phak sot
Papia phak sot

The entrées didn’t have quite the same impact as the appetizers, but not for lack of flavor.

Yum neua is Thailand’s contribution to the salad world. Lettuce, tomato and red onion with grilled beef in a tart, sweet and spicy dressing dazzles with its boldness. It’s become a favorite of mine. May’s sole problem was tough beef in an otherwise good salad (☆☆☆).

Yum neua
Yum neua

Chef Chaleoy makes her own curries from scratch, and the yellow curry in gaeng faak thong is no exception. What is basically a kabocha squash curry was overshadowed by the amount of fried tofu, one of three protein choices (chicken and pork the others). The curry sauce was exceptional, delicious enough to scoop over rice, but I wish there had been more pieces of squash to be enjoyed by all of us. (☆☆☆½)

Gaeng faak thong, red rice
Gaeng faak thong, red rice

It was really a shame that phad see iew was over-sauced. The dark sauce was too intense, calling attention to itself, an excess of salty and sugary qualities. A lighter hand would’ve made a world of difference. (☆☆½)

Phad see iew
Phad see iew

Our dessert was another matter. We shared an outstanding molten spiced dark chocolate cake reminiscent of a flambéed chocolate decadence. Hints of ginger and chiles provided enough spice to give the dessert an Asian twist, served alongside raspberries and blueberries. (☆☆☆☆)

Molten chocolate cake
Molten spiced dark chocolate cake

The limited menu has several more interesting items. May’s phad thai, for example, is served wrapped in a banana leaf. At the table, the server will add additional ingredients to the noodles one at a time. Another specialty whose name almost competes in length with humuhumunukunukuapua’a is a stir-fry of either chicken or tofu, cashew nuts and mushrooms in a roasted Thai chile sauce. Try ordering phad metmamuanghimmaphan without tripping over your tongue. Islanders are justifiably happy about having such a fine and authentic Thai restaurant on their turf.

May Kitchen + Bar
17614 Vashon Hwy SW
Vashon, WA 98070

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