Thai temptations


POSTED: Sunday, March 22, 2009

After being sick for a week, I was in a race against time to get better, not just to put an end to the coughs and muscle pains, but to avoid stressing those readers who made it clear they missed their weekly dose of restaurants.





        Hawaii Kai Towne Centre, 333 Keahole St. / 394-2488

Food: ;*;*;* ; 1/2


Service: ;*;*;* ; 1/2


Ambience: ;*;*;*


Value: ;*;*;*;*


Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays


Cost: About $30 to $40 for two without drinks




I've missed the occasional column or two due to illness or vacation over the years, but this time was different. Due to newspaper cutbacks, I guess readers are starting to fear the worst when a column goes missing, so there were some who panicked.

By the time I was well enough to taste food again on Thursday, I was still in no mood for company or going out, but gee, I didn't want anyone to worry again.

Luckily, I had heard some good things about Maile's Thai Restaurant in Hawaii Kai, so at that late date I anticipated no problems, no do-overs. Curiously, the recommendations always came from people who hadn't gone themselves, but had received their information secondhand and wanted further reassurance. I guess the economy being the way it is, everyone wants a second opinion before putting more of their hard-earned cash at risk.

What Maile's has to offer is that perfect consumer-friendly combination of pleasant ambience, good food, reasonable prices and attentive service, down to the food descriptions written on doggie bag boxes at the end of the meal for easy search later. How many waiters even think of performing this thoughtful organizational trick?

MAILE'S IS IN the spot where the Chef's Table once stood, and looks different enough to deter comparisons or longing for that popular restaurant.

Yes, there is a Maile, last name Sayarath, who started working at Mekong at 16, graduating to working alongside aunts and uncles at Paesano's and Assaggio's, always with an eye toward a restaurant with her own name on it and the food she grew up with.

Thai menus are fairly uniform in this town, but Maile's has some distinctive dishes starting with what I needed most at the time, a chicken long rice soup ($8.90). I was expecting strips of chicken, but the garlicky ground chicken, the equivalent of tiny meatballs, worked even better, holding up to the chicken broth, which tends to render shredded chicken overly chewy.

Maile Rolls ($9.90) are a variation of summer rolls, with the extra touch of seasoned ground pork rolled in the rice paper wrapper with the usual combination of rice vermicelli, vegetables and shrimp. They'll also heed special requests to separate shrimp and pork for those whose compatibility ends at the table. (A lot of my friends have strange food phobias, and their rules are confounding, i.e., hamburger but no steak, salt-and-pepper seasoning only, no garlic, no onions, no vegetables, etc.)

Thai short ribs ($13.90) are the restaurant's version of teriyaki, marinated in a spicy soy-ginger sauce, grilled and sprinkled with green onions and crispy garlic, which appears in many of the dishes.

At its priciest, Maile's offers Western-style entrees listed as Chef's Specials in the back of the menu. Here are the celebratory offerings of New York steaks ($28.90) and Filet Mignon ($32.90), both broiled and topped with sauteed onions and mushrooms.

But what I really wanted was the lemongrass pork chops ($23.90). Unfortunately, at 7 p.m. they had run out. I don't know how a restaurant can run out of such a staple, but that might be an indicator of the dish's popularity. If the short ribs could be used as an example, I imagine the pork chops must be even better, perfumed with lemongrass and layered flavors of Thai spices.

Basics of salads, beef and chicken dishes and curries are kept at reasonable $7.90-to-$9.90 levels. A Thai green curry ($8.90) with coconut milk was solid enough to stand chopsticks in it for those who like a puddinglike consistency. That was about as heavy-handed as it got here.

Other dishes managed a balanced blend of flavors and textures, including that of a vegetarian eggplant tofu ($8.90) with mellow yellow bean sauce, and a Thai salad ($6.90) incorporating romaine leaves, chicken ($1 more), onions, tomato slices, carrots and a sweetened peanut dressing. Thai restaurants might be the only ones serving peanuts right now, overlooking recent food scares, but I felt fine afterward, even though chopped peanuts topped most of the dishes.

The entire meal could be summed up in a dessert of sticky rice and mango, which was just right, having caught the fruit at that moment in the cusp between green and ripe stages, capturing both the tangy sourness of green mango and sweetness bordering ripeness.

Add this one to your top-10 lists. I always love a restaurant that respects its patrons by serving food worth eating.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin.