Bai Tong, Redux

Photo courtesy Peter Mumford

Yesterday, I got to share the good news that Bai Tong--the fantastic historical oddity and awesome Thai food joint buried in a Tukwila strip mall--had expanded into a second location while I wasn't looking.

"According to the Bai Tong Facebook page (yeah, I'm surprised, too), the new operation went live on May 21," I wrote yesterday. "And okay, while this also might not be the most convenient location for those of you based in Seattle and unwilling to cross the bridges even for the best Thai food in the area, I'm still really friggin' excited to get up there and see what the new place has to offer.

And to score another plate of moo dade deaw, of course."

And as things turned out, I actually managed to make it up there a whole lot sooner than I'd anticipated. Like, within hours of writing those hopeful lines.

When I got home from work yesterday, I discovered that I needed to roll out for Overlake Hospital (sorry to Trans and all you other haters out there, but it wasn't anything life-threatening). And Overlake? That's like right around the corner from the new Redmond location. I was so close, it was like I could smell it from the parking garage. And just as soon as Laura and I were done with our date with the doctors, I suggested that maybe we ought to, you know, give the new place a try...

Did I mention that we were starving? I should've probably mentioned that we were starving. Like eat-the-steering-wheel-cover-off-the-car-starving. I could've suggested that we make a quick run to the local porn store or dry cleaner's and Laura would've been totally down as long as there was a snack bar attached.

Anyway, with just a couple illegal u-turns and a brief run down the wrong side of the street, we made it from Overlake Hospital to the Overlake Plaza strip mall (at 14804 NE 24th Street, where the new Bai Tong lives) in record time. It's a big, beautiful location--a stand-alone building about the size of a reclaimed Olive Garden--filled with Thai artworks, masks, sculptures, dark wood and lovely little architectural flourishes. What's more, at around 8 o'clock on a Monday night, the place was jumping--easily feeding about a hundred people just in the time that we were there.

Because we were woozy with hunger, we bungled the take-out process a little--ordering, then re-ordering, then re-re-ordering, much to the consternation of the very polite (and very patient) girls working the front desk. To start, we asked for a couple curries and a plate of moo dade deaw.

"Will that be all?" the girl asked us.

"Yeah," I said.

"No," said Laura.

We added on a Thai iced tea and some spring rolls.

"Can I get you anything else?"

"No," said Laura.

"Wait!" said me.

I added on some ginger beef, a plate of fried wontons, another curry and a second order of moo dade deaw.

"Will that be all?" asked the girl.

I looked at Laura. Laura looked at me. We both nodded sheepishly, figuring that three bags and twelve pounds of take-away Thai food ought to be just about enough to take the edge off. Maybe.

I'm happy to report that the new Bai Tong is excellent--a wonderful spot for both seriously authentic Thai grub and the slightly Americanized stuff that's nearly as good. My only problem was, the food wasn't quite as good as the stuff produced by the original Bai Tong. Everything tasted slightly blunted, as though it were missing a single degree of genius or inspiration or simple depth of flavor. Nothing was less than great, but neither was anything we ate as great as the stuff we'd gotten used to in Tukwila.

This could be a function of newness. This second location has only been open since May 21 and, like with any new restaurant, the staff is still settling in and getting their legs under them. It could have something to do with nerves: the 200th plate of moo dade deaw made by any kitchen is just never going to be as good as, say, the 1000th, once both the crew and the kitchen have been seasoned up by having a hundred shifts under their belts. It could also just be that the original outpost has some magic to it that the new one is never going to have.

All that aside, if I had to put this new Bai Tong into the rankings, it easily takes the number two slot in my hierarchy: meaning that if the first Bai Tong in Tukwila serves the best Thai food in town, then this new one serves the second-best. And not for nothing, but that's a nice place to be for a restaurant that's less than a month old.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some leftovers to take care of. There's a whole, second plate of moo dade deaw sitting in my fridge, and it is calling my name.

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