Realtors say that Watertown is the new hot spot, but if you glance around at the restaurant possibilities, there's not much to choose from. Branch Line opened in Watertown Arsenal, and if you're willing to eat at 5 or 9 p.m., you can get in. If you want a casual night somewhere, the new J. Dee Asian Bistro, just outside Watertown Square, might be the place.
Tony Hongsamat and his wife, T.K. Ithivongsupakit, opened the 34-seat spot in March in a former Upper Crust Pizzeria location. The couple had lived in Arlington for a decade while he worked as a sushi chef at Kame Restaurant in Beverly and she was a server and cashier at Sakurabana Japanese Restaurant in the Financial District. At J. Dee, they're making a bunch of popular dishes, mostly Thai, lots of sushi (there are two menus), and other favorites.
The couple and his brother, Long, wanted to open their own place but couldn't afford anything here, so on the advice of friends, they moved to Ohio and opened in the city of Parma, close to Cleveland. "There were not many Thai restaurants there," says Ithivongsupakit. They stayed for seven years. Now Hongsamat is making sushi and Long is cooking the Thai dishes, while Ithivongsupakit is the face of the place out front.
The words J. Dee sound like Thai for "pagoda." They took the name because the brothers' hometown, Nakornpathom, near Bangkok, has the largest pagoda in the country.
On the Thai menu, there's crab Rangoon ($6.50), that throwback Chinese-American dish that has many fans. These are very fresh and crisp, and if you like surimi and cream cheese, you'll love them. Steamed shumai ($5.25) are juicy with shrimp; the dumplings are also available fried.
Papaya salad ($8.95), a nest of fine shreds of the unripe fruit with plenty of carrots, garnished with green beans and peanuts, has a delightful crunch but needs more flavor. Strips of grilled lemongrass chicken on top are bland. Larb kai ($7.95), the mixture of ground chicken and toasted rice, is one of those dishes that looks like a mound of nothing, but made with enough cilantro, chile, and lime, it's addictive, as it is here.
Stir-fried Chinese broccoli, egg, onion, basil, and wide rice noodles go into a delicious "crazy noodles" ($10.95), something like "drunken noodles," popular on Thai menus. Pad Thai ($10.95) doesn't have enough egg or sprouts or other textures besides rice noodles and ground peanuts.
A big bowl of egg-noodle soup with chicken, called kao soi ($10.95), has everything — an intense curried broth, pickled mustard greens to add to the bowl, and a pile of fried noodles on top. If you made it your dinner with a Singha beer, you'd be happy.
Ithivongsupakit is a gracious hostess and servers bring food quickly, though they need to tidy tables at the end of the meal.
On the elaborate sushi menu is tuna tataki ($12), thin slices of lightly seared fish, refreshingly plain, served with citrusy ponzu sauce. Spicy tuna makimono ($5.75), lovely little bites, is rolled with radish sprouts and spicy mayo. Chile roll makimono ($13) arrives on a long rectangular tray, a cylinder of tuna, salmon, avocado, sriracha, and sweet miso layered together and topped with tobiko, delicate red roe, so it's hot, creamy, and a little salty.
The house specialty J. Dee roll ($14) combines shrimp tempura, tuna, asparagus, salmon, and cream cheese, garnished with tobiko. We try it because we're wondering what cream cheese is doing there. It's making the little rolls delicious, adding creaminess to the very crisp shrimp, which poke out at both ends of the long roll.
There was a time when dishes like crab Rangoon and cream cheese in sushi would have had me scurrying in the other direction. I'm over it.
J. DEE ASIAN BISTRO
98 Main St., Watertown, 617-924-1804, www.jdeeasianbistro.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Sushi $3.50-$40. Thai appetizers, soups, small plates, salads $2.50-$12.95. Curries, soups, noodles, rice, sautes $10.95-$14.95. Specials $12.95-$17.95.
Hours Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat noon-10 p.m., Sun noon-9 p.m. (Closed July 3 and 4.)
Liquor Beer, wine, sake.
What to order Tuna tataki, J. Dee roll, chile roll, larb kai, crab Rangoon, crazy noodles, kao soi (noodle soup).