The CSRA is home to only a handful of Thai restaurants; in fact, at this moment, my brain’s only recalling three, but I may be way off. Regardless, the number is definitely small when you consider we have at least one Chinese takeout for every 40 people in this town.
Sure that might say something about supply and demand, but here’s the thing — as a populous, we are familiar with only so many cultures on a mass scale. We’re down with some Italian, Chinese, Mexican and Japanese. We know what to do with chips and salsa, egg rolls and sushi, and many of us can use chop sticks just fine.
But deviate from these and you’ll find many people out of their depth and afraid to ask for guidance. And usually, if we don’t know what we’re dealing with, we are less likely to try it out.
So it helps when a small Thai restaurant, like Sawasdee (pronounced sa-wa-dee), brings their authenticity to the table, educates their customers and makes them feel comfortable. Not something I anticipated when my husband and I arrived early on a Saturday evening.
Sawasdee took up residence in what used to be home to Matsu Sige on Washington Road, in the strip mall to the front and left of Carolina Pottery. The corner unit offers the benefit of ample parking, but as with all restaurants on any main road in the CSRA, unless you really love asphalt and gaudy signage, you just know there’s no gawping out the window at decent view.
Thankfully, once you’re inside, the Augusta we all know just disappears. The space was designed and decorated to welcome the natural light and help customers relax — the walls are a sunny pale yellow and feature wooden inlays and traditional art pieces. The music is totally soothing.
There is plenty of seating throughout the various little dining areas, and we were seated immediately. Menus were in hand just a few moments later. We ordered drinks and started trying to figure out what we were going to eat — for me, the stakes were pretty high. I’ve had plenty of Thai food before, but what it was I could not tell you, I just knew it was delicious and I’d be happy putting it in my belly again. I also knew the food was likely to be salty, sweet, sour and spicy all at once, but I had no clue what to do with that knowledge.
Plain ass ignorant.
The first thing I chose was my drink, a Thai coffee — and that I got right. A Thai coffee is a dark, but not bitter, sweetened iced coffee brewed with cardamom and topped with a thick cream. It tastes better than anything piped out of those logo-cupped “coffee” shops and at about 2/3 of the price — and it’s served in a large glass with a straw. It’s the cat’s pajamas.
My husband’s mango smoothie was ridiculous. Fresh, full of the crushed fruit and ice, creamy and sweet without any cloying aftertaste; I ended up drinking half of it after finishing my Thai coffee, and gave serious consideration to getting another to go. It was that good and I have zero regrets.
The food was where I fudged.
Mr. Swift ordered the Pad Thai, because duh, that has to happen. And in the end, he won the lottery — it was perfect. He opted for pork, which complemented the spicy noodles, bean sprouts and nuts; he said it was the best he’s had, and though the portions were generous, he could easily eat more.
Me, well, I’m an idiot. I went for a stir fry — the Pad Ka-Na — meat and broccoli fried in garlic and the “special sauce,” and chose beef as the meat. I didn’t ask about the special sauce, because all I was thinking was “veggies, beef and garlic!” Can’t go wrong with that!
Nope. Thailand is an emerging economy and though their staple food is rice, they are heavy on using seafood and fish sauces. As it happens, that includes one of the main ingredients in the special sauce — oyster sauce.
The plating is lovely at Sawasdee. Nothing extravagant, but pleasing to the eye. My Pad Ka-Na arrived with a separate rice bowl and platter, and a large plate of beef, carrots and broccoli. All the ingredients were cooked to perfection — the fresh vegetables were still crunchy, and the beef was excellent — but, the sauce made me wonder what I was eating. I kept looking for hidden seafood because I was convinced I could taste something fishy, until it dawned on me that the special sauce was the likely culprit.
We were being served by a senior member of the staff — either a manager or an owner — and she was fantastic. When she discovered I was having difficulty finishing my food, I was able to explain that, though there was absolutely nothing wrong with the preparation, my palate simply wasn’t happy with the combo of beef and oyster. Immediately, she firmly and kindly told me she would get me something else and I wasn’t allowed to leave hungry.
A few minutes later she set a plate of pastries in front of me, smiled and left me to it.
Accompanied by a vinegar-based dipping sauce featuring peppers, cucumber and onion, the pastries were filled with a piping hot curried chicken and potato mixture. As soon as I took a bite I wished I had ordered one of their curry dishes. It was divine — seasoned so well that I am hesitant to guess all that went into it, and that is truly rare. The pastry was excellent — flakey but firm — and the dipping sauce popped on the tongue, adding a bright note to the pungent curry without overpowering the flavor.
My Pad Ka-Na regret melted away and I was left feeling like Sawasdee gave a crap, and without hesitation I will return. They really want their customers to be happy — their struggle is to attend to a Western palate without betraying their authentic recipes or offending the locals. In my opinion, with food and service like theirs, and with a willing customer base, they can do it.
Sawasdee Authentic Thai & Noodle House
3836 Washington Road, #7