Years ago, when I worked in Renton, a group of us used to go to Bai Tong for lunch, a Thai restaurant that was located on Airport Way near SeaTac airport. The interesting backstory is that an ex-Thai Airways flight attendant wanted to make familiar foods available to the Thai Airways crew on layover in Seattle. She brought over trained Thai chefs to prepare the food. At this original location and the subsequent one only a half block away, it was one of the best Thai restaurants in the greater Seattle area in the days when there weren’t the numbers that there are today. Then, one day (I can’t remember exactly when), Bai Tong closed its doors. Though by then there were many more Thai restaurants to choose from, its closure was lamented by fans, including myself.
Fast forward to 2011 when I was driving past the Overlake Fashion Plaza in Redmond, a short distance from Microsoft’s Main Campus. I happened to glance over to the left and saw Bai Tong in the building that Coco’s used to occupy. Could it possibly be? The answer was a resounding yes.
Bai Tong has gone upscale, a trend that some Thai restaurants have been following lately. Another example is the wonderful Chantanee that used to be an informal restaurant in a tucked-away, single-story commercial building in downtown Bellevue, only to relocate to glitzier digs in the Bellevue downtown core surrounded by glass and concrete, with higher prices to boot. Bai Tong’s foyer has a stunning gold-lacquered model of a Thai royal barge, a shorter version of Suphannahong whose prow is the head of a golden swan. The dining space is dominated in the middle by a fully-equipped bar with a large flat panel TV overhead that is ever airing sporting events. Yeah, very Thai indeed—and very attractive to the younger cocktail set that prefers to scoop up happy hour snacks.
We’d been here a few times since its opening. Tonight we had dinner with friends, one of whom used to be part of the bunch that lunched at the SeaTac location. With pictures to help the uninitiated make choices, the menu had many mouth-watering dishes. The waitress helped us make our selections.
For a beverage, the mango tea sounded nice and different. Served in a metal teapot, it was a refreshing beverage, though it arrived cooler than it should have. We asked for hotter water and the wait staff obliged. By the time we re-poured the tea into our cups some time later, the temperature had dropped again, not helped by a black metallic pot that radiated heat fairly quickly.
Papaya salads are very popular in Southeast Asia. Bai Tong’s Som Tam consisted of finely shredded green papaya dressed with a sweet and salty fish sauce and lime dressing with nicely cooked prawns, chopped mint, sliced tomatoes and crushed peanuts, with a wedge of raw cabbage leaves that were a challenge to separate. This was a beautifully flavored salad.
Pad woon sen is somewhat difficult to find on Thai menus, deferring to the more popular pad thai and pad see iew. Part of the reason might be that these are made with rice noodles, while woon sen uses thin, mung bean noodles, the texture of which is slipperier, vaguely cartilaginous. The restaurants that do serve them make them, for the most part, too saucy (wet), sometimes without enough glass noodles to justify calling it a noodle dish. The last time my wife and I had a very good one was at Thai Kitchen many years ago. Its current rendition is a shadow of its former self. Bai Tong’s brought back memories of really good woon sen, one of two preparations on their menu. Tonight, Eight Angels combined the noodles with seafood, pork, straw mushrooms and vegetables in a sauce worthy of praise.
One of the recommendations by the waitress was Salmon Curry. Obviously a Northwest adaptation, the dish had skimpy pieces of salmon that were cooked a tad too long, but nice enough in a delicious red curry-coconut milk sauce barely concealing chopped tomatoes, celery and basil. This was one of those sauces you can pour on rice and eat by itself.
American chicken nuggets take a back seat to Thai Crispy Garlic Chicken. The aforementioned Chantanee’s is a spectacular version that arrives on a sizzling platter, swathed in a copious sweet-savory sauce that pools on the bottom. Bai Tong’s is less saucy but no less delicious: fried pieces of battered chicken breast, sparingly coated with sauce and generously garnished with fried basil leaves, less garlicky than Chantanee’s. But for a batter a bit too thick, this was a very good entrée, not surprisingly one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.
The four of us enjoyed a dinner every bit as good as the food served at the old Bai Tong. As an added bonus, it’s much closer to home.
Bai Tong also has a location in Southcenter.
|Bai Tong Thai Restaurant
14804 NE 24th St.
Redmond, WA 98052