Yes, Virginia, there IS great Thai food in Fairfield County...and RAINBOW THAI at 5 Bridge Street in Westport is just what Virginia (and all the rest of us who feared that a great, local Tom Yum Gung soup might not really exist) ordered. RAINBOW THAI is tiny and finds itself in that formerly ill-fated location in the Bridge Market complex that hasn't, to date, been a lucky spot for restaurants...but I think Rainbow Thai has staying power. Why? The food is just so damn good.
For those of you who have already been, my guess is that you, too, have woken with a start in the middle of the night, craving that delectable GREEN CURRY! Forget about the moist chicken (or shrimp or beef) and delicious veg swimming happily in the bowl. I could pick up the dish and drink that spicy green ambrosia straight up. Don't scoff. I KNOW you would too. For those that have yet to sample this dish, RAINBOW THAI's Green Curry is da bomb. The main ingredients for any authentic Green are coconut milk, green curry paste (made my pounding green chilies, shallots, garlic, lime peel, ginger, shrimp paste and other spices), eggplant, sugar, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and basil leaves. Chef Chanh Tong, a native of Thailand, doesn't skimp on any of these vital ingredients and the result is a slightly sweet, creamy broth with just enough kick to make you sniff. We also tried the Red Curry (the difference being shrimp paste and bell peppers with perhaps a touch of cinnamon) but to me the Green had more pizzazz.
The LARB GUY is another favorite - minced chicken blended with rice powder, chili powder, onion and fresh herbs. This dish is served with lettuce leaves for enveloping the chicken. The cool, fresh lettuce is the perfect wrapper for the warm, flavorful chicken and the rice powder bonds the chicken slightly and acts as a thickening agent. This LARB (or Larp or Laap ) can be ordered as a beef salad as well.
Another worthwhile salad option is the SOMTUM, with freshly sliced green papaya, tomato, peanut and a tamarind sauce. The SOMTUM is as refreshing as a cool summer breeze and will take you to that beach on the Indian Ocean. One bite and there you are, lying on that towel, baking in the Asian sun and along comes that gorgeous...wait! Wrong blog. Back to the food!
Naturally, the noodles are the make-or-break ingredient for me as far as the Thai experience goes. The PAD THAI is simple and made with the traditional ingredients - stir-fried PHO rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chilli pepper and sprouts and sauteed with chicken, beef or shrimp. We chose chicken for ours and it was adequately tender and juicy. Garnished with peanuts, coriander and lime, this is better than average and will most definitely be a winner with the kids! The PAD SEE EW with shrimp, on the other hand is outstanding. Flat and broad rice noodles are sauteed with Chinese and regular broccoli and drenched in an outrageously delicious, brown sauce with plenty of spice. The noodles soak up the tangy jus and the shrimp are cooked to perfection, sweet and crunchy. This PAD is rad.
If it's noodle soup you crave, definitely go for the TOM YUM NOODLE SOUP. Here, a broth with plenty of vinegar for that extra zing is the base for tender chicken, cilantro, bean sprouts, sweet onion, chilli paste and peanut. Since winter just won't seem to quit, warm your tum(my) with some TOM YUM.
The FRESH SHRIMP SUMMER ROLLS are always a Thai favorite and RAINBOW THAI's are very good. Minced shrimp are rolled with noodles, veg, basil and plenty of cilantro and encased in cool, rice paper. This dish is the perfect complement to the spicier dishes and your tongue will appreciate the repose. These rolls seem to clear your palate, as well, and work like sorbet to prepare your mouth for the next flavor extravaganza. Rolls rocked.
There were a couple of dishes that Chef Tong might want to revisit. We ordered the LIME CHILI SHRIMP, but these were just not quite up to snuff. Though the shrimp were fresh and tasty and cooked just right, the sauce was too sweet and the dish became (here comes that word again...) cloying. Wouldn't order this one again until the Chef changes it up a bit. Another dish that was only so-so was the DUCK CHOO CHEE. It sounded so intriguing - crispy duck with CHOO CHEE (basically a red curry sauce but here, the coconut milk is boiled to such a temperature that the fat separates from the rest of the liquid. The liquid evaporates and you are left with a very thick sauce that makes the sound "choo chee" will simmering) and kaffir lime leaves - but the name was just too adorable to pass on. Yet there was not enough "crisp" and the flavors were bland. The thickness of the sauce soaked the "crispy" right out of the duck and the dish was mushy. Crisp up that duck, Chef, and push those spices and I will definitely try to CHOO again.
Overall, RAINBOW THAI is true a winner. There are bound to be few dishes at any restaurant that can be improved upon but most things we tried under this RAINBOW have been golden. So, Virginia, I'm still not so sure about the existence of Santa Claus... But for top notch Thai, your search is over. RAINBOW THAI - it's real!
Rainbow Thai 5 Bridge Street, Westport (203) 557-9000