Thai food is supposed to be spicy, right? I mean really spicy. Well, yes and no. When I was in Thailand, not much of what I ate overwhelmed me with heat, and I have a low tolerance for spicy. Of course, even Thai street vendors know when they’re cooking for tourists. (And unlike Americans, they don’t seem to see high spice level as a challenge diners should endure for bragging rights.) Here in the U.S., most Thai restaurants allow you to choose your level of heat. But let’s face it, everyone expects a little kick in their Thai food. At Arawan Thai Bistro & Dessert, however, a little is about all you’re going to get.
Unlike most Thai restaurants that offer a sliding scale of heat from one to 10, Arawan offers you a choice of mild, medium or spicy. I usually opt for a three or four out of 10, which generally provides a nice kick but doesn’t overpower my palate to the point I can’t make out the other flavors. On my first visit to Arawan, I asked for my meal mild, while my guest asked for it spicy, going so far as to say “Thai spicy,” which can mean a fire in your mouth at many places. My dish had absolutely no kick to it. His would have qualified as the top echelon of my admittedly timid taste buds, and wasn’t nearly up to his expectations. On a return visit, my wife and I ordered all of our dishes medium and I again found them extremely lacking in heat.
Ignoring the spice factor, Arawan is actually a very nice little restaurant—which it would have to be, being located in the same Commercial Center as the almost legendary Lotus of Siam and the popular Komol. The space itself is apparently a former Japanese restaurant, as evidenced by the sunken zashiki tables in an unused secondary dining room you pass on the way to the restroom. But the sushi bar has been nicely converted into a small wooden dining bar. And soothing wood carvings with a Southeast Asian feel line the walls. It’s a family business, and the servers clearly care.
The menu has plenty of Thai classics, including traditional soups, salads, curries, pad Thai and other noodles. In the entrée section, you’ll find such dishes as wok-fried rib-eye with basil, stewed pork, squid-ink drunken noodles, two types of duck and assorted traditional stir-fries. While the prices are generally reasonable across the board, the $10 lunch special is a particular bargain. It includes egg flour soup with crispy noodles, your choice of entrée, rice and a dessert of the day. And speaking of desserts, former Rio pastry chef Thanisorn Bumroongsawad has joined her family here to create sweets much more sophisticated than what you’ll find in just about any Thai restaurant in town. While I’ve yet to try it, her crème brûlée under a golden sugar dome is absolutely gorgeous to look at. And the chocolate mousse cake I have tried was delicate and delicious.
Among the appetizers, I really liked the Thai chicken wings, fried as perfectly as the best bar wings I’ve ever had, but marinated in a light lemongrass seasoning. And the Arawan Special Roll is a fresh assortment of vegetables with a touch of shrimp wrapped in rice paper, reminiscent of Vietnamese spring rolls. From the soups, try the tom kha chicken, a version of tom yum balanced with sweet creamy coconut milk and packed with veggies and chicken. It’s almost as pretty to look at as it is delicious. (Presentation is a far higher priority here than at most neighborhood Thai joints.) My favorite entrée so far has been pad pong karee, which is soft shell crab stir fried with yellow curry powder and egg.
I was, however, very disappointed with the dry and barely seasoned Thai barbecue chicken. And while an order of spicy mint chicken was good, the fried egg on top was sadly overcooked.
Arawan is a cut above most neighborhood Thai restaurants, except for that problem with the heat. If you’re not a fan of spicy, you should love it. For those of you who are, hopefully they’ll find a way to turn up the heat.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Arawan fresh roll ($7)
- Thai chicken wings ($8)
- tom kha chicken ($6 or $11)
- and pad pong karee ($15)
Arawan Thai Bistro & Dessert
953 E. Sahara Ave., 702-734-7799, Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Dinner for two, $25-$60. ArawanThaiBistro.com.