Gai Satay and Makuer Yang (chicken and eggplant skewers); Asparagus with Bamboo Shoots; Pla Rad Kang (charbroiled Atlantic salmon and winter melon in red curry)
Occupation: Architect/Developer/Stay-at-Home Dad
Favorite Restaurant: Soi Four
Reviewed Soi Four Bangkok Eatery: Thursday, October 20, 2005
Soi Four Bangkok Eatery in Oakland takes Thai food way beyond the ordinary. There are many unique dishes with sophisticated flavors that you won’t find at most Thai eateries. The name Soi Four comes from the name of a busy street in Bangkok and this restaurant can certainly be busy.
The interior design is modern and feels spacious, even though the room is small. You would never guess that this is a Thai restaurant by its looks. Large panels of structural glass span the space between the concrete floor and the ceiling, separating the white linen-topped tables from the College Avenue sidewalk. A sleek, rectilinear, concrete topped bar sits at the back of the room, and a floating mezzanine provides space for intimate parties and diners that prefer to eat above the buzz. Olive green painted stucco and dark cherry stained wood panels cover the walls, and the ceiling is punctured with small skylights. Bare incandescent bulbs suspended from white wire illuminate the void.
While perusing the extensive menu, you might sip some exotic cocktails like Sublime, South Sea Pearl Saketini, or Full Moon, made with tropical fruit juices, sake, fruit-infused vodka, and lychee purée.
The meal usually starts with an assortment of small plates. I had a new dish called kieow poo ($7.00), which are Thai wontons with crab and spinach. The wontons were delicate, succulent, and fresh. The broth was light and flavorful and pieces of fresh crabmeat alighted on top of wilted spinach leaves. My son drank the juice off the plate. We also had skewers of eggplant, and chicken satay. The meat was tender and barbequed to perfection, and the dipping sauce warm and exquisite.
Next, we encounter the soup and salads. You could sample the soup of the day or perhaps you will try the charcoal-seared tiger prawn salad with fresh chili-lime dressing (goong pla, $8.00). I usually have somtum, which is the green papaya and cherry tomato salad in a sweet garlic lime dressing ($7.00). This salad explodes with exotic flavors.
Rice plates and noodles follow, and not far behind is the meat and poultry section. We had the short ribs slow that were simmered in a basil and kaffir panang sauce (panang nuer, $12.00). The meat is tender and the flavor rich.
Vegetables, "others," and seafood round out the menu. The charbroiled Atlantic salmon and winter melon simmered in red curry (pla rad kang, $12.50) usually knocks me off my seat. The fish is plentiful and melts in your mouth. Other possibilities are Charbroiled large river prawns topped with kaffir choo chee sauce (goong choo chee, $14.00), or steamed mussels in an aromatic, herb-infused broth served with hot seafood-lime dipping sauce (hoi op mordin, $9.75). Everything is beyond expectation.
After a meal of spicy, sweet, sour, and tangy tastes, you will be longing for some cool and refreshing desserts. Two of my favorites are Top Tim Ruby ($4.50), and Kloeytod ($5.50). Top Tim Ruby is a blend of tapioca-covered water chestnuts, jackfruit, toddy palm, and ice floating in coconut milk. Kloeytod is just sublime. This dish of fried bananas and coconut ice cream is simply heaven.
Sometimes, but rarely, I’m a disappointed in a dish. Not because it is bad, but because it tastes ordinary like a dish you might find in other Bay Area Thai restaurants.
Soi Four can get busy, so make reservations during the weekend or come when the restaurant first opens during the week. The service is quick, even when crowded. This is a neighborhood restaurant that you and your friends can frequent regularly. If you pass on the cocktails, the tab will be very reasonable considering the quality of the food and the experience. If you think all Thai food tastes the same and think all Thai restaurants look the same, come try Soi Four in Oakland. You won’t be disappointed.
Favorite Restaurant: Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
Reviewed Soi Four Bangkok Eatery: Monday, October 31, 2005
At first we had a hard time finding Soi Four, because our Mapquest directions told us to take an exit that didn’t exist. But, luckily my husband knows the area and got us there fairly quickly. I am so glad he did. First of all, I had never been to this area even though we live in the East Bay. What a charming location! College Street was a great little offshoot with perfect window shopping. Cool clothing stores, art, and many restaurants to choose from.
When we got to Soi Four, I immediately loved the semi-modern feel to it. The hostess was great. Because it was Halloween they had a basket of candies out, which made me relax about having my kids there. (Yeah…not my ultimate choice to bring the little buggers, but couldn’t get a sitter on Halloween. Go figure!) Right when we sat down, our waitress came over with menus and the specialty drink menu. I decided on a Ginger Drop, which is a vodka drink infused with ginger. It wasn’t quite as sweet as I thought it would be and had a strong alcohol taste. But, I would imagine that would be a great thing for someone who likes a good, strong drink. Then we ordered several plates as described above. Looking around the place, I felt at ease. The lighting was dim and created a really cool vibe. Just made you want to hang out. Our food arrived immedately and the egg rolls were amazing! They were lightly fried, and the accompanying sauce was perfect. Again, as soon as our plates were empty they took them away, brought us fresh plates for our next selections, and then brought out the rest of our order. Everything was delicious. I am serious! I was trying to find something bad about the food so I could go toe-to-toe with whoever had picked this place, but I couldn’t! (So, I guess we’ll just have to arm wrestle instead, haha!)
The plates we chose offered a variety of flavor, from fresh ginger to spicy garlic. We had snap peas, asparagus, eggplant, and bamboo shoots. Then for dessert, we ordered the fried bananas and coconut ice cream. I am definitely a chocolate gal but wanted to try something a little more representative to this place. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary…this was an unbelievable sensation! The cold coconut ice cream with the warm, cakey bananas…to die for!!! So, I think you get that the food was amazing.
Still, the thing that sticks out for me the most was the incredible wait staff. I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants and this staff was probably the friendliest and most accommodating I have ever encountered. I truly mean that. They were beyond efficient and so polite and kind. When I said thank you they’d say thank you. When I complimented them on how amazing everything was they seemed genuinely appreciative. Even if they food weren’t as incredible as it was, the staff’s tableside manner would make up for it. I actually called three friends on the way home and told them they HAD to go there. I would say this was the best dining experience I’ve had in a long time, which pains me because we know how I love Mario’s! OK, apples and oranges, right?
Location: Foster City
Favorite Restaurant: Jeanty at Jack's
Reviewed Soi Four Bangkok Eatery: Saturday, October 29, 2005
A large part of the pleasure of a great Asian dining experience is that you typically don’t have to pay much to get a really great meal. And, while the décor of most Asian restaurants typically ranges from plain -- where a few travel posters stuck on a wall is sufficient -- to plain-plus -- complete with dusty, plastic, tabletop flowers, garish colors, and an exotic religious altar or two -- the lack of attention on décor seems appropriate, maybe even necessary, for a complete Asian dining experience.
Soi Four turns a nose at both, offering a range of Thai classics as well as Thai classics "with a twist" for about 25% more than what you’d pay at other Asian places minutes away, and in a "hip and trendy" setting any fashionable yuppie would feel at home in. Clean modern lines, a high and open ceiling, a Ralph Lauren-esqe color palate, tiny hanging spot-lights, a young and attractive staff dressed in black -- a typical set up of so many other "cool" haunts throughout the Bay Area. So, if not the value and ambiance, it’s the quality of the food and the quality of its preparation that Soi Four must rely on to answer the question: “Why am I here?” The range of choices, along with enticing descriptions on Soi Four’s menu, gave promise to getting an answer to that question.
Soi Four’s fresh roll appetizer of blue crab meat, wilted bean sprouts, tofu, Asian sausage, and watercress (paupia sod) for $7.95 was attractively presented with slices of roll garnished with tufts of watercress floating on a pool of anise-spiked plum sauce. However, missing was not only the bite and crunch of "fresh," typical of Thai fresh rolls, but also any readily visible signs of blue crab meat. Only after uncoiling a couple of segments and picking through the ingredients expressly in search of crab was I able to find any whisper of crab. So, the question of “Why am I here?” remained.
Tua Pad Pik, Soi Four’s stir-fried Blue Lake green beans with overly salty shitake mushroom slices seemed a bit steep at $8.50. Another entrée consisting of only eight medium-sized shrimp, six chunks of deep-fried eggplant, ground nuts, and fried basil sautéed with a generous heap of slivered onions also seemed steep at $11.50. Though flavorful, unlike more classic Thai dishes that tend to leverage the purer tastes and textures of spices and ingredients (which is a large part of the appeal of Thai food), both of these dishes involved more gelatinous, smooth, cornstarch-thickened sauces more akin to Chinese than Thai cuisine. Perhaps that’s the "fusion" attempt. But, after three dishes, the question of “Why am I here?” still remained.
There were high hopes for Soi Four’s Garlic Rice. Unfortunately, it had neither any traces of garlic or garlic flavor. So the question of “Why am I here?” was left unanswered.
But Soi Four isn’t “bad,” per se. Flavors are good enough…and for those who are merely seeking a hip atmosphere, decent service, a range of offerings, and generally good flavors, Soi Four is perfect fit. But those who really want to experience greatness in a complete Asian/Thai dining experience of better authenticity, quality, and value should head mere minutes away to Berkeley or Oakland Chinatown where the question “Why am I here?” just doesn’t need to exist.