House of Thai
374 Front St., Marion
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Major charge cards accepted
Genuine Thai meals aren’t easy to come by. You want the best? Go to Thailand and eat just about anywhere, as I’d done last spring. Second best? Hit well-regarded Thai places in big cities like Boston.
For the most part, there is no third best, because what’s called genuine Thai food usually turns out to be a bland, gloppy, Americanized version aimed at an eating public largely unfamiliar with the real deal.
So expecting great Thai in a suburban town usually leads to disappointment. At the House of Thai in Marion, however, they get it mostly right - especially if you ask the server, “Can you please have the chef make this authentically?’’ We didn’t realize this until later, and on a return visit experienced more genuine-tasting fare.
Our party of four first came one Saturday night to the restaurant, which seats about 25 and features requisite Far East decorations, such as paper lanterns, elephant statuary, and art depicting Thailand’s much-revered royalty.
We sat in one of two small dining areas, a tight but quite comfortable space that puts you in close-enough proximity with fellow diners as to invite conversation, always a good thing.
We started off with appetizers that were good, but not extraordinary, including steamed pork dumplings ($7), spring rolls ($4.50), and crispy chicken wings ($7), all made better by dipping sauces, including a sweet-and-sour version and a spicier concoction.
I also had a cup of tom kha soup with pork ($5), which was the best of the appetizers. It had authentic ingredients like coconut milk and lemongrass, but also some non-Thai stuff like cherry tomatoes. In a later visit, I tried the tom yum soup with chicken ($5), which had a nice sweet-and-sour taste, and a good kick at level three heat. (The menu has optional, increasing heat levels of one to three. My advice: Hot Thai is the best Thai, it really ramps up the flavors.)
The entrees were better than the appetizers. We tried what the menu calls gaboune salad ($13), a reasonable version of traditional Thai beef salad, with generous chunks of medium-rare steak tips, spring roll, lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, carrot and noodles. The dish had a little kick even without my requesting a heat level, as it’s made with red chilies and lime. It is easily big enough to be split by two diners as a meal.
We also went with grilled basil lime chicken ($11), an abundant and tasty dish of chicken with basil, spinach, onions, snow peas, red bell peppers and garlic, served over a choice of white, jasmine or brown rice. This night they were out of brown rice, but the white substitute absorbed the flavors of the dish, so all was well.
The list of curry dishes is pretty extensive and includes massaman, but we went with green curry with pork ($11), delicious and plentiful, made with bamboo, mushroom, snow pea, broccoli and onions. It packed just the right amount of heat, though we didn’t request any increase.
Pad Thai is a staple of street food in Thailand and one you can take liberties with as a result, but the genuine article shouldn’t have baby corn in it, as the standard House of Thai version ($11) did. Still, it was quite good, if slightly Americanized, with perfectly cooked rice noodles, scallions, steamed vegetables and crushed peanuts. While it didn’t bring me back to the Thailand I’d visited, it was close.
On another visit, I asked for genuine pad Thai, and the difference was noticeable and delicious.
Even with the large portions, you should leave room for classic Thai mango sticky rice ($5.50), which is eaten any time in Thailand and qualifies as dessert here. Made with sweetened coconut milk and fresh diced mango, this was easily as good as any I had in Thailand.
We also had the only other dessert on the menu, a fried banana ($6.50) that was outstanding, made with coconut in a flaky baked shell, and served with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate, whipped cream, and crushed peanuts.
The House of Thai opened in October 2009. Chef/owner Nong Detmong Khanh, born in Thailand and raised in Laos, is self taught, and is more than happy to cook dishes in a far more authentic manner when diners make the request. She is a delightful woman, with a kind, gentle personality reflective of her Thai lineage.
Our bill for four, with four appetizers, four entrees, and two desserts, was $80.14, not including tip. There is no liquor license; bring your own libation and eliminate the drink tab.
It’s hard to find authentic Asian fare outside of urban America, but at House of Thai, they make a rather tasty effort - especially if you’re not shy and ask for the real deal.