Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Way to His Heart

Country boy meets Thai food on the North Side.

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Although Darryl wasn't enticed to taste the food, he was smitten by the cook, Pramuadee Uthaiphop.

About all that Darryl and Pramuadee had in common was their age (he is now 52, she 51) and marital status (they were both divorced). Darryl returned to the restaurant several times over the next few days on the pretext of checking on the equipment, but he wasn't quite ready to taste the exotic fare.

But after several visits, Pramuadee talked him into trying one of her dishes — chicken with cashews over fried rice — and he loved it, proving the adage that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. He asked her out to a movie and within a month they married.

Shortly thereafter, the newlyweds pooled their savings and opened their own restaurant, Thai House, in rural Fairlawn in Pulaski County, near Darryl's regular job as a machine operator in a textile factory. When he couldn't get time off to help open the restaurant, he gave up 25 years' seniority to devote himself full time to their new business.

Pramuadee's talent in the kitchen ensured that the venture was successful from the start, but last year a friend made an offer for the place that they couldn't refuse.

So they set off for the big city — Richmond — to hunt for a new site. After encountering sticker shock at properties in the Short Pump area, they settled on space in the Wistar Center, just north of the train station on Staples Mill Road.

The menu at Thai Country (he's country, she's Thai) is similar to that of most Thai restaurants: spring rolls, satay, soups, curries, pad Thai, and various combinations of chicken, pork and beef, with toppings that include sweet and sour, green curry coconut, mango, spicy black bean and ginger and lemon sauces.

Soups and appetizers range from $4 to $8; most entrees are $8 to $10, with a few seafood dishes costing $16. The seafood is offered steamed or fried with various toppings and sauces. Lunch, with soup, spring roll and entree, is $6.

What makes Thai Country stand out is the cooked-to-order care that Pramuadee gives to each serving.

The steamed tilapia was a large portion so juicy it could have been fresh, though with the exception of salmon, the seafood is previously frozen.

Panang beef came in a creamy red-curry peanut sauce with fresh basil and sprinkled with shredded lime leaves; a sliced pork offering was sautéed and served with fresh lemon grass, mushrooms, garlic and green onion in a hot sauce.

One appetizer, kanom jeeb — steamed dumplings filled with crabmeat, pork loin and water chestnuts — is every bit as good as the signature dish of Pramuadee's former employer in Northern Virginia, Tara Thai, which opened a branch at Short Pump a year ago.

Other noteworthy starters are crispy spring rolls stuffed with clear noodles, cabbage and carrots; chicken satay, grilled skewers of white meat marinated in spices with peanut sauce and cucumber relish; and shrimp in a blanket, four deep-fried black tiger prawns wrapped in a thin spring roll and served with a sweet sauce.

Darryl and Pramuadee, aided by her two adult children, who also are the servers, painted the two dining rooms, both of which are nonsmoking. They put in a couple of aquariums and opened in the fall.

By now Darryl not only loves Thai food but can cook a passable chicken cashew with scallions, peppers and a Thai sauce. He's not allowed to cook at the restaurant, however. "If I did, I'd run everybody off," he says.

There's little chance that Pramuadee's cooking will run anyone off, unless it's to tell someone about the great little Thai restaurant in the neighborhood. S



Thai Country Restaurant ($$-$$$)
8131 Staples Mill Road, Wistar Center
261-1111
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-10:30 p.m.; Sunday 5-9 p.m. Lunch: Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.


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