Drunk on the Sauce
Queen Anne's Home for Fine Thai Cooking
Most Seattle residents have one Thai restaurant per neighborhood that they favor over all the others. I, for instance, prefer Thai Tom in the University District, Mae Phim when downtown, and Jamjuree on Capitol Hill. In most cases, this favoritism is based not on logic or a balanced study of all the restaurants in the area; many of them are simply the first Thai restaurants that friends brought me to in each neighborhood, and I've stuck with them. On the one hand, this is a weird provincialism that doesn't seem to travel to other types of food; people are always willing to try a new pizza place, especially if a coupon is involved. On the other hand, this means that there is probably at least one good Thai restaurant per neighborhood in Seattle, and a contender for best Thai restaurant on Queen Anne is Ying Thai Kitchen.
Also known simply as Thai Kitchen, Ying Thai Kitchen is a converted house on a residential block at the top of Queen Anne Hill. It's certainly pleasant to look at. There's a large patio space looking out on Queen Anne Avenue, and the interior of the house, painted in light blues and pastel colors, is airy enough to make it a welcome escape from the summer heat.
The menu, while extensive, doesn't hide any surprises for a Thai restaurant. There are appetizers like pot stickers ($7.95), which are fairly standard, and the Angel Wings ($8.95), deep-fried chicken wings stuffed with ground pork and noodles, which are a bit heavily fried to be an appetizer but delicious nonetheless. The real star of the appetizer menu is the Crab Delight ($7.95), a light crab Rangoon that spotlights the consistency of cream cheese and freshness of crab. It works perfectly and is one of the better crab Rangoons I've had in Seattle.
When it comes to dinner, Ying Thai Kitchen really excels at fresh seafood dishes. If this were a touristy crab-shack kind of place, the Basil Seafood Passion ($14.50) would probably be known as the Fisherman's Chest: impeccably chosen mussels, scallops, prawns, and squid, all stir-fried to perfection and served with basil, bell peppers, green beans, and mushrooms. The quality of the food is so high that it's almost painful to complain about the fact that the meal had no spice or flavorings. While a fresh plate of seafood is a rare joy, Ying Thai Kitchen's unadorned dishes are so plain as to be Spartan.
Whereas most Thai restaurants use sauces to cover up imperfections in the cooking, Ying Thai Kitchen's most heavily sauced dishes are the best. The roasted duck pineapple curry ($12.95) is a thick, heavy curry, and it's amazing, with whole pieces of juicy, fatty duck floating in a curry stew of grapes and chunks of pineapple. Also pretty great is the Prik Khing ($9.50), another stir-fried dish of sautéed green beans, garlic, and chili paste, coated in a salty peanut sauce that is singular among almost all the Thai-restaurant peanut sauces I've tried for not being too sweet. Instead of being made from a rendered peanut butter, this peanut sauce tastes of roasted peanut. For meat—the choices include beef, pork, tofu, with squid or prawns an extra $2—I opted to spend the extra $2.50 for another helping of those perfect, juicy scallops.
The spice problem again rears its head with the coriander beef ($12.95), a tray of what the menu describes as "franksteak" beef, thinly sliced and served still sizzling, fajita style. But there was no coriander flavor to be found. It could just as easily have been a tang-free plate of Mongolian beef or any other generic Asian beef meal. Perhaps the problem here, as with most problems all around the world, has to do with clueless honkies: Most Thai places tend to be overcautious when adding spice, if just because stupid angry white people will often send their own mistakes back to the kitchen to be rectified, and there's no easy way to de-spice a dish once it's cooked.
There is no such problem with the dessert; after a hot and saucy meal, it's quite satisfying to lean back with a full stomach and idly spoon at a mound of coconut ice cream ($4) with real chunks of coconut, or pick at a plate of mango and sweet sticky rice ($7.50). Ying Thai Kitchen's sticky rice is a delicious scoop of sweet rice that tastes of honey and sugar, unadorned with the black goo that most Thai restaurants call dessert. When it's paired with a plain, sliced mango, it's a testament to the wonder and charm of simplicity in action.