A blog about movies and the Sturbridge area, including The Brookfields, Brimfield, Charlton, Holland, Wales, and Spencer as well as adjacent towns.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Win, Lose or Thai-Restaurant Review


Thai Place
www.thaiplacerestaurant.net
371 Main Street
sturbridge, MA 01566
(508) 347-2999

When I worked in Worcester, two decades ago, there were a few up market Thai restaurants. It seemed the popularity of that Southeast Asian cuisine was flowing out from Boston. One of them was a lovely spot across the street from what is now the DCU Center. I dined there as a guest of the lawyer who handled my employer’s business. He had a financial interest in the place. It was an exquisite meal. Alas, the establishment has long vanished and its name escapes me. All that is left in the city that bills itself as the Heart of the Commonwealth is Racha Thai, and that is on the outskirts.

West of Worcester, however, has seen Siamese restaurants sprout in three towns. There is Thai Island in Holden, and the newly minted Thai House in East Brookfield. The Thai Place is the Sturbridge edition. It is just off the Main Street where one turns to go to Old Sturbridge Village, behind Crabtree & Evelyn.

On a winters afternoon my daughter and I decided to take in Thai Place. She has been to the Holden establishment and I have not had Thai food for too long. The restaurant has two rooms, one with a small bar and some tables. The other has tables and is brightened by a picture window. The decor can be best described as non descript.

The hostess brought us to a table in the bar section. The place was not busy and we should have been seated in the room with the window. My fault for not speaking up, but still not a considerate management practice.

Menus arrived and we proceeded to study the pages full of choices. Not at all systematic in our method, we must have driven the waitress crazy by the amount of time it took us to decide. After making all other choices, even glancing over at the dessert menu, we asked for the Bangkok Ravioli as an appetizer. I would have the Tamarind Duck and my daughter, the Massaman Curry with pork.

The ravioli was nothing like the Chef Boyardee I grew up on. It was perfectly crispy chicken dumplings that we happily shared. The duck dish had the flavor of tamarind and the vegetables were well prepared and tasty. The duck itself was not special. Though the pork and vegetables were tasty in the massaman curry, there was a dearth of potatoes. It could have been a bit spicier as well.

For dessert, we shared the Fried Banana. Maybe the batter fried foods are the forte of this place. They were tasty by themselves, but dipping them in honey hardly hurt.

So the verdict is the Sturbridge Thai Place while not world class is a fair value for the amount you would spend to eat. It is nothing like my first encounter with the cuisine. While at an army reserve intelligence course (don’t laugh), I dined at a Thai establishment outside Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The food had some of the similar tastes of the Thai Place with one big difference. The heat cooked into the food was spectacular. I had been eating hot and spicy since my previous government sponsored vacation in Louisiana so, high as the temp was, I could stand it. Still, it was a challenge. The food served in Bangkok would probably find few takers here in Nova Anglia. Of course, as popular as Mexican food has become, I doubt we get the same stuff up here that is served in Oaxaca or Vera Cruz. To attain popularity, ethnic fare has to be Americanized to an extent. Sort of a diversity without diversity.

The question is, is the Thai proliferation a chain? It appears not. The Thai Place does have a new sister operation in South Hadley. My guess is we are seeing a similar phenomenon with Thai as we saw in pizza several decades ago. At one time, pizza places were mom and pop and mostly Italian. Then Greek immigrants started opening shops all over and succeeded in taking a large market share. The Greek pizza phenomenon appears to have been a central restaurant supply company that provided product to the individual proprietors. It was and is a cookie cutter operation that combined economies of scale with local ownership. Something similar might be working with the Thai spots. The menus all are alike. You can get all your favorites from Pad Thai to Tom Kha Kai. If only it had more of a bite.

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