Sometimes the most delicate and beautiful things in nature are spawned in conditions that are wholly antithetical to their survival. The delightfully fragrant jasmine flower, for example, is thought to have originated in the Himalayas, a mountainous region prone to extremely harsh weather. The jasmine’s delicate star-shaped flowers yield a light and sweet fragrance tinged with a hint of the tropics and strongly evocative of the exotic locations in which the flower is most popular. The jasmine is as beloved among emperors, kings and sultans as it is among people of the common clay.
Jasmine flowers are worn on the hair of women in Thailand where the flower symbolizes motherhood. Brewed and consumed daily in teas throughout Southeast Asia, jasmine is thought to be effective in the prevention of certain cancers. With mild analgesic and antiseptic properties, it is used to treat some respiratory disorders and to help sufferers overcome muscular discomfort. It is even thought to help ward off depression and anxiety thanks to its emotionally uplifting beauty.
High expectations are in order when a restaurant has a name like Jasmine Thai. Diners might expect that the restaurant be pleasing to the eye and that aromas emanating from the kitchen titillate the olfactory senses. This restaurant does not disappoint in either count. Clustered among several restaurants in the 25 The Way retail and professional district, Jasmine Thai launched in late June, 2007 in a space vacated by the Owl Cafe. As of August its exterior signage had not yet been finished.
Jasmine Thai has a storied culinary heritage. Its owners once also owned the Bangkok Cafe when, during its halcyon days, it was named one of Albuquerque’s twelve best restaurants by the Albuquerque Journal. At the very least Jasmine Thai is one of the city’s most attractive Asian restaurants. Framed paintings of various flowers hang from multi-hued walls while beautiful silk flowers peek out of ornate vases. An entire section of the restaurant is dedicated to the royal family of Thailand. There is much to please the eye.
A relatively small sushi bar prefaces the kitchen. The number of Asian restaurants other than Japanese serving sushi continues to increase and Jasmine Thai entered the fray, too. The sushi menu is relatively limited with all the requisite maki rolls, hand rolls, nigiri sushi, sashimi and vegetable rolls many sushi restaurants seem to serve including the de rigueur maki roll stuffed with New Mexico green chile. If the crunchy shrimp roll is any indication, Jasmine Thai & Sushi House won’t be competing for acclaim as one of the city’s best purveyors of sushi. While the tempura battered shrimp was fine, the rice disintegrates when introduced into a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce. Spooning sushi out of that mixture will detract from anyone’s appreciation.
Note: As has been astutely pointed out to me, sushi etiquette dictates that you dip maki rolls into soy sauce fish side up. Rice easily absorbs soy sauce and it’s only natural that it would crumble.
All dishes can be made to your liking–mild, medium or hot and all but noodle dishes are served with a side of rice. It’s absolutely no surprise that the restaurant uses only top-grade Jasmine rice from Thailand, a long-grain variety of rice renown for its nutty aroma and subtle flavor.
A dozen appetizers include some not found in other Thai restaurants in the Duke City. That includes squid strips, ten deep-fried squid strips served with a side of spicy sweet and sour peanut sauce. The squid strips are lightly battered. crispy and just a bit salty.
A combination appetizer sampler will give you the opportunity to try several of the restaurant’s pre-prandial treats. These include two Thai spring rolls (stuffed with ground chicken, cabbage, silver noodles and carrots), four Thai meatballs and two shrimp all served with a side of sweet and sour peanut sauce. Though the ground chicken is parsimoniously apportioned, the spring rolls are crispy and full of flavor. The wrapper is crispy and not at all greasy. The Thai meatballs are grilled on skewers and have a texture unlike any Italian or Swiss meatball you’ve ever had. The texture is, in fact, more similar to that of a sausage only even less grainy. Still, the meatballs are more than just interesting; they are quite delicious, too.
Wok-fried dishes, some tempting enough to pry me away from curry, occupy a prominent section of the menu. One of those dishes is Mango Chicken, an entree I last had at a Vietnamese restaurant in Denver. The best mango chicken provides a marriage of sweet, tangy and savory flavors with no one taste sensation overwhelming the others. Jasmine Thai prepares an excellent mango chicken. Served steaming hot in a beautifully shaped bowl, it features mango that hasn’t quite ripened to the level of dessert sweetness, leaving it more lip-pursing tangy than sweet. The chicken is lean and tender with none of the annoying dark, sinewy pieces other restaurants serve. The carrots are fresh and crispy.
Jasmine’s Thai Fried Rice is perfectly prepared with an enticing fragrance and nutty taste characterizing the best and most expensive rice dishes. It is prepared with your choice of chicken, pork or beef, egg, sliced celery and yellow onions. The yellow onions are grilled and delicious!
When my Kim ordered Moo Tod, my first reaction was “boring.” Moo Tod sounds like little more than breaded pork chops, but when prepared well, those pork chops are highly flavorful. At Jasmine Thai, an order of Moo Tod means six pieces of tender pork marinated in a garlic-pepper sauce then wok-fried and served with a side of sweet and sour peanut sauce. The pork is almost fork-tender and the sauce subtle and delicious. In fact, forget all about the peanut sauce which is almost cloying in its sweetness.
Save the sweetness for dessert where mangoes and sticky rice are available. There are few desserts quite as refreshing as mangoes in season bathed in sweet coconut milk. This dessert evokes the sensation of a sweltering, carefree summer day.
Jasmine Thai & Sushi House has the culinary pedigree to succeed in a growing Thai restaurant market. It has the menu that promises to bring in diners for repeated visits.
Jasmine Thai And Sushi
4320 The Way, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 4 August 2007
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Combination Appetizers, Mango Chicken, Moo Tod, Mangoes and Sticky Rice, Crunchy Shrimp Roll