Spicy, not necessarily hot, cuisine offered at Isan Thai Restaurant
By Paul Roat
Isan Thai Restaurant offers traditional Thai food from a province in the northern region of the country bordering Cambodia and Laos. Owner P’Koong is from the Sisaket or Isan region and brings her home cooking to Sarasota.
Although Northern Thai dishes are spicy, as are most dishes from that part of the world, this restaurant’s cuisine seems lighter and packed with a bit more flavor than most other Asian restaurants. That statement has to be couched with a dining tip: order the food mild with some of the fiery sauce on the side to avoid any mouth searing.
Isan Thai, at 5768 S. Tamiami Trail, just south of Phillippi Mansion, serves lunch and dinner. Menu items are similar on either menu, with a more extensive dinner menu featuring a large number of vegetarian dishes.
Popular appetizers include Golden Triangle ($4.50 for lunch, $4.95 dinner), a ground chicken, potato, and Thai spice blend wrapped in rice paper and served with sweet and sour dip. Also special for a starter is Sai Aour, a home-made sausage, hearty and lightly spiced at $5.95.
Soups are a Southeast Asia dining mainstay. At Isan Thai, popular soups are the Tom Yum Goong, ($4.95), a hot and sour soup with shrimp, onion, raw mushrooms, cilantro and Thai basil, as well as the Noodle Soup with rice noodles with chicken or pork, bean sprouts and Thai basil. The latter soup is $4.95 for lunch, with a heartier portion available at dinner for $8.95 for chicken, $9.95 for pork.
Chef P’Koong offers a lunch and dinner special of several noodle dishes with a variety of vegetables, spices, and other ingredients, served with a variety of proteins and prices: chicken, pork, beef, tofu, or vegetable specials are $7.95 for lunch, $11.95 dinner; shrimp, scallop, or calamari is $8.95 lunch, $14.95 dinner; and a seafood combo at $10.95 lunch, $17.95 dinner.
A popular special with diners at the above prices is Pad Thai with its rice noodles sautéed with egg, bean sprouts, ground peanuts, and scallions.
With most of the world’s jasmine rice harvested in Thailand, rice dishes are featured at Isan Thai. Many of the chef’s dinner specials include a hearty helping of the fragrant rice.
Isan Thai serves five duck dishes for dinner. Patrons may choose from sweet chili sauce, ginger sauce, fresh garlic chili sauce, or Panang sauce. Panang Duck, ($19.95), is a highlight and also a dish to which spice-wary diners should be wary. It is a roast boneless duck with a Panang curry paste in coconut milk with mixed vegetables and ground roast peanuts.
More of that wonderful jasmine rice is featured with coconut dishes. The fare again comes with a variety of proteins at varying prices for lunch or dinner.
Popular is Red Curry, with the spice served in a paste in coconut milk with mixed vegetables and Thai basil.
Isan Thai has one of the most extensive beer menus seen outside of a specialty brew pub. Plan to sip your way across the world, with Thai, Japanese, Belgium, and other brews, a long list of craft beers also from around the world, plus more traditional lagers. There is also a large wine list.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday featuring only the dinner menu. More information about the restaurant is available at 941-923-1232, or isanthairestaurant.com.
The décor is authentic Thai, with colorful furnishings matching the bright dresses of the serving staff. And a special note about the servers: the food was presented at a balanced, perfect pace without a hitch in service.