Restaurants have an unfortunate habit of hyperbolizing their significance. With countless claims of “Best Pizza,” and “Artisan Sandwiches,” it is easy to be skeptical of restaurants’ claims. At first glance, Thai Gourmet may seem to be another mediocre restaurant with an ego problem. While the ambiance is more Pamela’s than Per Se, the food is surprising (and surprisingly good) Thai fare that actually lives up to the name.
Nestled in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, Thai Gourmet is easy to miss, with only a small lit-up sign and Christmas lights in the window. While hanging paper lanterns add a bit of décor, Thai Gourmet is simply adorned. But part of its charm lies in its simplicity; family owned, Thai Gourmet makes you feel at home. Even more, the restaurant is rarely crowded, making conversation easy. But it is neither bar seating nor Christmas lights nor the homey atmosphere that draws groups of devotees. Instead, it is the expansive menu, catering to everyone’s inner Thai cravings that brings people back again and again.
Thai Gourmet offers both common options and more unique creations for appetizers. A dainty order of summer rolls (though slightly gummy) uses mint and basil to a wonderfully refreshing effect. A generous serving of Chicken Satay is standard, but when paired with spicy peanut sauce, becomes difficult to resist. The Thai Samosas are a more interesting option. Stuffed with a smooth combination of sweet potatoes and onions, the samosas are crisp without being greasy. An accompanying sweet and sour cucumber sauce adds a vinegary bite, giving a new spin to a tired dish. The undeniable highlight of the appetizers is also the most unusual. The Hoi Jo, a melody of crab and minced beef wrapped and fried in tofu skin, was, first of all, a triumph of texture. In one bite, the crisp tofu skin is coupled with the soft meat filling, crunchy and chewy, ying and yang. Even more, the meat is liberally spiced, making sure each bite is flavorful with a light tingle of heat.
Even more gems can be found in the entrees. A massive bowl of Tom Yum soup explains why the dish is essential to Thai cuisine. Flavored with chili, lemongrass and lime, and filled with slurp-worthy glass noodles and bites of bean sprouts, the Tom Yum soup manages to be satisfying down to the very last spoonful. No wonder some “scientists” claim Tom Yum soup to have cancer-fighting abilities; after eating the soup, my body felt rejuvenated. The Massaman Curry is surprisingly varied, containing peanuts, carrots, chickpeas and potatoes, all smothered in a rich, sweet, slightly spicy curry. Few things taste better than a bite of good Massaman Curry, and Thai Gourmet offers some of the best. However, the accompanying tofu is oddly tough, even gritty. While most everything is available with tofu instead of meat, all of the tofu is strangely chewy. The Duck Curry had a similar sauce as the Massaman, though a more intense spice and tiny chunks of pineapple modified the flavors. The only real disappointment is the Ginger Pineapple entrée with beef. While containing ample amounts of vegetables, everything comes soaked in a syrupy, overly sweet sauce. With the exception of the Ginger Pineapple, the flavors of every dish are memorable.
Service is splendid. Food comes out amazingly fast, sometimes even too much so; entrees were served before we finished appetizers. Still, this is preferable to an obscene wait for food. The wait staff is attentive and friendly, keeping glasses full and spirits high. While Thai Gourmet offers dessert, the best option may be the bowl of candy that sees each guest off. I took a bite-sized Milky Way on my way out, and, with a stomach comfortably filled with Thai, it never tasted so sweet.
(Thai Gourmet is located at 4505 Liberty Avenue. Entrées range from $9.50-$10.)