Right about now, you are likely anticipating a gargantuan Thanksgiving meal, the signature of the American tradition, just as the Pilgrims and the Native Americans imagined it: strangely textured cranberry sauce from a can, a very drunk uncle regaling you with entirely fabricated stories about his time fronting a funk band in the 1970s and your great aunt scrutinizing your every life decision. ("Why'd you go to college for journalism? Your cousin over there makes more money managing the Waffle House and his GED cost less than a textbook.")
True, Thanksgiving is the ultimate Munch holiday, a gastronomical carnival if you will. But, like carnivals, it can be a little stressful. Or a lot stressful. Like the time Uncle Munch set the grass on fire or the time Cousin Munch decided to announce that she was a Scientologist, causing Aunt Munch to choke on a turkey bone.
If your Thanksgiving is anywhere near as stressful as Family of Munch's, you're going to need a massage afterward. Or you may need shock therapy, like that Linda Blair girl.
Or, maybe you just need some Thai food, dished up in a place named for a heavenly tropical garden.
This is where Thai Suan Thip in Bellevue comes in. Munch has never placed a whole lot of weight on ambience. If a great pulled-pork sandwich were served in a garbage dump or Cleveland (is that redundant?), Munch wouldn't think twice about grubbing. But Thai Suan Thip, which is a reference to a botanical garden with the same name in Bangkok, sort of feels like a portal to nirvana.
The restaurant is housed in a quaint white brick building with second-story flower boxes, tucked between a commercial building and houses. But enter, and you suddenly feel like Thai royalty. The bench seating is plushly upholstered with silk (or something that looks like it). Even the service staff spoke in hushed tones. The whole space (which is not so large) was bedecked with warm hues -- mahogany brown, orange and red -- bringing instant relief to Stressed Out Friend of Munch (who was headed to the DMV for the third time) and Reliably Hungry Friend of Munch.
We started with an appetizer called Shrimp in the Garden ($8.95), a plate full of massive prawns set among a forest of broccoli. Both were battered and deep-fried to golden perfection and served alongside a tangy-sweet sauce. The dish was scrumptious. Both the broccoli and prawns were cooked just right. The Spring Rolls ($5.95) were less impressive, a little overwhelmed with the sharp bitterness of mint and Thai basil. (It helped, though, that they were served under a tiny cocktail umbrella which, along with the elephant salt and pepper shakers, wins them points for cuteness.)
Next came entrees, accompanied by a chef's special soup -- on this day a salty broth served with chunks of pork and Asian greens. It generated a chorus of "mmmmms" and SOFOM, who grew up in China, said it took her back to her grandmother's cooking.
In a sly acknowledgement of the fact that Thai people like their food a lot spicier than Americans (Munch has heard that sometimes they just insert food into their mouth on fire), Thai Suan Thip offers an American spice scale (1 through 5) and a Thai spice scale (Bangkok 1 through 5).
SOFOM, who ordered the Massaman Curry with tofu ($8.50) at a spice level "Bangkok 5," complained it could have been spicier, but it was nonetheless delicious.
RHFOM went for the Rad Nah ($8.50), thick noodles with crunchy vegetables swimming in a brown gravy. The combination of the slippery noodles, crunchy soy beans and the salty-sweet gravy was pretty yum.
Munch indulged a little in the Pad Pet Thai Suan Thip ($12.95), a stir-fried combination of deep-fried fish chunks, squid rings and shrimp drenched in a sweet sauce flecked with spicy peppers. Anise-scented Thai basil leaves also swirled in the mix. Munch's only complaint was that the dish could have used more of them.
Topping off the delectable meal was mango ice cream with fried bananas ($4.95). The mango ice cream was heavenly and the fried bananas -- the fruit is rolled in spring roll wrappers and then deep-fried -- were a lovely addition.
The complaints of the FOMs were minimal. SOFOM said she's had better Massaman curry and expected something less sweet and more peanut-y. It's also a bit of a hike for her. "For now," she said, "I'll save it in my box of places to go for my random cravings for massive and exceptional prawns and broccoli."
RHFOM also said her dish could have been spicier. Next time she'll go for the Bangkok 5 instead of the American 5. Like the rest of us, she was wooed by the cozy and exotic ambience, calling it good for a date night.
But we all felt restored, like after a trip to the spa, but with hardly the hefty bill. So after what will undoubtedly be an arduous holiday, Munch will return to be nursed back to health.