Wrong Is Right

North Aurora Thai place breaks the mold.

Afloat in the sea of mediocre Thai restaurants that is Seattle, I had developed a theory that very good Thai food isn't that much better than just average Thai food. The theory was going along strong until it was summarily disproved in the unlikeliest of places. Word had come down the service-industry grapevine that just north of Seattle proper was a new restaurant serving authentic Thai food, and that it was worth the drive. Drive north on Aurora past the countless weekly-rate motels, auto dealerships, parts shops, and smoke-filled cardrooms, and somewhere before Canada, in a lonely corner of a strip-mall parking lot, you'll eventually encounter Uthaithani. Uthaithani is the result of a collaboration of the tireless William Sayner and the culinary prowess of his girlfriend, Napaporn Saad. "Uthaithani wouldn't have happened without the help and generosity of my friends and family and Meow's culinary skill," says Sayner. He and Saad had been looking for possible locations for Uthaithani and found the current location when Saad coincidentally took an alternate route to work. The vacant restaurant on North 160th Street was for lease and within their price range. So with little capital and no experience in proprietorship, the couple took a shot. Although they've never owned an establishment, Sayner and Saad are no strangers to the industry. He's managed several restaurants in Seattle and on the Eastside, and she's graced numerous kitchens, perhaps most notably as head chef at Racha in Lower Queen Anne, where she helped expand the menu. Traditionally trained in Thailand, Saad employs the palette of Thai cuisine—garlic, lemon grass, chilies, coconut milk, coriander, fish sauce, garlic, lime leaves, oils, peppers, and soy sauce—to create a surprising number of dishes from scratch in Uthaithani's undersized kitchen. The portions are ample, tea arrives in a French press, and quantity isn't a crutch for lack of quality. At $6.95—the most expensive item on appetizer menu—the mouth- watering pork spare ribs are alone worth the drive. Oyster sauce and garlic glaze keep the deep-fried morsels crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. Side dishes, like the mixed vegetables ($4.95), are nearly enough for an entrée. The Volcano Chicken ($10.95), a roasted Cornish hen that arrives impaled on a metal stake protruding from a wooden plank, features tender meat that nearly crumbles off the body. A set of sauces—one subtly hot with red peppers and a bit sour, one sweet—accompany the bird. Holy Eggplant ($7.95), stir-fried with a combination of bell peppers, basil, yellow sauce, and chili paste, is superior to similarly prepared brethren found closer to downtown. For the perpetually unadventurous, the lunch menu's phad Thai ($5.95 with pork, beef or chicken, seafoods $1 extra) features a well-balanced sauce with hints of peanut and an overall taste that's sweet but not too sweet. An associate's choice of Hot Thai Spice ($5.95), juicy grilled beef mixed with bamboo shoots, green beans, bell peppers, basil, and kasir leaves in a red curry sauce, was likewise spicy but not too spicy. Vegetables in all dishes were stir-fried or steamed just long enough to make them chewable but not mushy. Uthaithani's location will likely render reservations unnecessary, but to say the dining room is small is something of an understatement. For this, Sayner has plans, and it seems just the start from a man who can barely finish explaining one idea before launching into a description of the next. Future campaigns include, among other things, an extended deck with outdoor seating; serving beer, wine, and potentially, liquor; special-request capabilities; a Thai travel consultation service; importing Thai souvenirs; and maybe a second restaurant on or near Capitol Hill. For now, though, Uthaithani will concentrate on working wonders in its tiny kitchen. And I'll be feigning humility as an excuse for pointing others to the place my long-maintained theory bit the dust. Uthaithani, 900 N. 160th St., 206-366-0999, SHORELINE. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily.

 
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