When our waiter returned for our order, we asked his personal favorite fish entree. He recommended hor mok. We engaged him in conversation and learned he was Kas, the son of Chef Chai and May, and a member of the family that owns and operates both the Ninth Avenue and the Irving Street locations.
The hor mok is special, Kas explained, because it is available only on weekends. Chef Chai prepares the red curry mousse on Thursdays. (Red curry is between the milder yellow and more pungent green curry on the heat scale.) Hor mok is snapper on a bed of cabbage and basil, with the red curry mousse steamed in a banana leaf "boat." The result is a perfectly flakey fish on slightly al dente cabbage and basil, prepared in well-balanced hot and savory curry with a wonderful creaminess. A delightful recommendation.
We also ordered vegetarian pad thai. Pad thai is rice noodles with tofu, bean sprouts, and egg. In this case, "vegetarian" means without shrimp; Kas asked to make sure egg was acceptable. That inquiry showed he knows about food and cares about his customers.
We tried the spicy ma kuer, which is sautéed eggplant with mushrooms, tofu, bell peppers, cornichons, chili, and garlic. It’s a perfect combination of ingredients and has spicy yet savory flavors, which make Thai food mysterious and accessible.
The restaurant décor is comfortable and friendly. A banquette lines the wall opposite the kitchen, and there is seating in a central aisle. There are a few tables near the rear of the restaurant on the opposite side. It’s a small, functional space lit with Italian spotlights. Aquatic flowers grow in huge glass cylinders on a bar opposite the banquette.
The food is clearly the star of the show here. It’s a no nonsense interior, where the quality, consistency, and value of the food shine. From dish to dish, from visit to visit, from year to year, Marnee Thai continues to please, because the proof is on the plate.
Occupation: Web Marketing Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Broken Record
Reviewed Marnee Thai Restaurant: Wednesday, February 17, 2010
When I started to write my review of Marnee Thai I realized that I’d gone to the wrong location; I was supposed to review the one 9th Avenue and not the one on Irving. Oops! While my mistake was a bit annoying, I was happy to have an excuse to go back and have more of their great Thai food.
On our first visit, we had Spicy Angel Wings, green mango salad, gai samoon prai, and panang pork, one of the specials. Everything was great -- easily the best Thai food I’ve had in San Francisco. The service was a little erratic, but that is all part of the authentic and friendly Thai experience!
The second time, we went to the location on 9th Avenue, between Irving and Lincoln. The ambiance at this location is nice, and the staff was very helpful and friendly. We were seated without a wait. I spent a month in Thailand in the fall of 2009, and have been craving all of the different regional dishes, especially street food. When I saw something called "coconut hotcakes" on the specials menu, I knew I had to order them, even though I had no idea what they were. We also ordered the pomelo salad (another special) and the pad cha talay, which is fish, squid, mussels, scallops, and prawns, cooked in a red chili sauce with fresh green peppercorn sprigs, red bell peppers, onions, lemongrass, and basil.
I was super excited when the hotcakes -- a cast iron pan full of little custards -- arrived at the table. I could hardly believe it -- true Thai street food in San Francisco. Be still my beating heart! And, oh, my god, talk about wonderful. The hot pan gives these treats a nice crispy exterior, and the inside is creamy molten (hot!) goodness filled with corn and bits of green onion, topped with coconut cream and slivers of kaffir lime leaves. Heaven! These were really, really good -- exactly like ones I had eaten in a market in Thailand.
The pomelo salad came next and had nice big chunks of sweet pomelo with prawns, cashews, mango, and iceberg lettuce in a spicy-sweet dressing. There was some taste of dried shrimp in the salad, as well, which I’m not all that fond of. The pomelo was wonderful (I fished every bit out of the salad), but I didn’t like it quite as much as the green mango salad.
The pad cha talay was really nice. The portion was enough to share between two people, and included four mussels and a good amount of scallops and prawns. The sauce was delicious. I also loved the fresh green peppercorns, which added a really wonderful spice and crunch. We ordered the brown rice, which is also a standout. It is cooked al dente and is very flavorful.
We purposely ordered a little less food so we would have room for dessert: black sticky rice with mango. Marnee Thai did not disappoint here, either (and gets extra points for having black as well as white sticky rice). The rice was divine -- creamy with coconut milk, a little firm, and it had a perfect sweet/salty balance. The barely ripe mango was thinly sliced and beautifully fanned around the rice. Delicious and very authentic.
I think the portion sizes at Marnee Thai are very good. An appetizer, salad, one entrée with rice, and one dessert was all enough for two adults. We were full but not totally stuffed, and didn’t bring home any leftovers. The food was, once again, fantastic, and really is just like you would get in Thailand. I love that they have some dishes you don’t see on standard American menus (I’m already dying for more hotcakes). The service was very good as well -- they continually refilled our tea and water, and were very friendly and personable. I really felt they wanted to make sure we enjoyed our experience in the restaurant.
Occupation: Pharmaceutical Sales Rep
Favorite Restaurant: Chez Spencer
Reviewed Marnee Thai Restaurant: Monday, February 15, 2010
Marnee Thai is half a block off of Lincoln Ave, so parking right on Lincoln itself was easy. We entered the restaurant, which has an open, diner-like kitchen in the front half and front windows steamed from the busy cooks in the kitchen. We walked in and were immediately taken to our table in the other half of the restaurant. The décor makes one think, "kitschy-Thai" with the Thai art, tapestries, and pictures hanging on deep, brick red walls.
My dining partners (three of them) and I experienced outstanding service. Our waiter, Kas (who we nicknamed, "Kas-is-BOSS"), and our server, Mac (for whom we coined, "Big-Mac-Attack"), were absolutely delightful. Kas consistently made suggestions as we built our menu and later, Kas and Mac beautifully described each dish as it was served to us. They both also told cute anecdotes and stories, entertaining and laughing with us throughout the evening. I honestly felt as if we had special service, but know that this is what they regularly provide for enthusiastic diners.
The only slight negative, and it certainly didn’t impair our experience, was that it was a tad too noisy when we first sat down. As we ate, the dining room cleared and then the noise level became more palatable. If one eats at a regular meal hour, this might be the only issue. Otherwise, we had a really fantastic experience!
We asked Kas to pair our wine with our menu, and he did a superb job of pairing a reasonably priced Sauvignon Blanc that paired nicely with our meal. I would definitely say our meal was a "bang for the buck," since the total bill only came to $158, inclusive of two bottles of wine, a beer, two appetizers, four entrees, two desserts, and rice.
We started with the Homemade Hotcakes, grilled rice coconut cakes that were served from the griddle at our table. Each cake, chewy with just a bit of crispiness in texture, was served with coconut cream, chives, and strips of pumpkin on top! FABULOUS! We could have had ten more for dessert, EACH!
Also, we had a fresh and creamy avocado salad with chunks of avocado tossed with shredded green mango, shallots, prawns, cashews, and topped with toasted coconut. A smooth and cool WINNER!
Kas even created a special vegetable dish for us when we asked for something green. We had asked about the sautéed spinach, and he suggested asparagus and asked if we wouldn’t mind if he added some prawns. It turned out to be a wonderful dish. The asparagus was cooked to perfection with a tangy, spicy, red curry paste-like sauce with chilies in it. DELICIOUS!
The pad se-ew was one of the best I’ve ever had (this is my personal favorite that I order at any Thai restaurant I go to)! Tossed with what seemed like a creamy gravy made from soy and garlic, it also featured broccoli and some yummy, crunchy, little flakes of toasted garlic. WOW! YUM!
I think the favorite of the table (besides the hotcakes) was a main dish, a special. It was a simmered panang pork curry with chunks of tender pork, simmered in a panang curry sauce with coconut milk, Thai basil strips, and broccoli. The pork (none of us usually choose pork as our first meat choice) was so tender, it fell apart as you tried to pick it up with your fork. INCREDIBLE!
When asked, Kas also suggested that we have a wok course and surprised us with a delightfully rich beef pad phed, sautéed with baby corn, mushrooms, onions, bamboo shoots, fresh chili, garlic, and Thai basil. FANTASTIC!
Again, let’s talk about my favorite course of any meal: DESSERT! HOORAY! Our table KNEW we wanted the fried banana with coconut ice cream -- an absolute favorite of all of ours -- but again, Kas made a BRILLIANT suggestion: the roti with coconut ice cream. Who were we to argue?! EXQUISITE! He mentioned, after we polished the two plates clean, that the roti dessert reminded him of a funnel-cake or an elephant ear (as those of us from the Midwest used to call them). The Roti was so fantastically crispy on the outside and perfectly chewy on the inside and topped with a decadently creamy coconut ice cream. I would say it's a DEFINITE NOT-TO-BE-MISSED for anyone with a sweet tooth!