Jhanjay's flagship store may be in Wallingford, but the newer Ballard Ave. location, conveniently situated in the middle of music row--the Tractor, the Sunset, and Conor Byrne--is a vegetarian's must-stop spot to fuel up before a Ballard show.
The Jhanjay sampler platter.
You really can't go wrong at this place. Except, that is, if you happen to be vegetarian and don't like Thai, in which case there's probably never been any pleasing you. And despite my only (pun intended) beef--the drafty dining room that'll have you reaching for your jacket as soon as you take it off--the moderately sized entrees, quaint service, and down-to-earth prices make it worth a visit.
It's no secret I love mock meat, and Asian cuisine, evolving within a culture heavily influenced by its religions (Buddhist monks reportedly invented the stuff), is especially adapted to make the most of the ingredient. At Jhanjay, most dishes are served with either steamed or fried tofu, but vege meat--here I prefer the savory, beef-like "mushroom cake"--can be substituted for $1 more.
On a recent visit, my boyfriend and I branched out from our usual routine--an order of fresh rolls to share, followed by two entrees--and started with the Jhanjay Sampler Platter, an assortment of fried appetizers. The wonton buckets, with curry seasoned carrots, peas, and potatoes were neat, like little Thai samosas, and the corn patties had a nice bite to them, but the variety was mostly heavy and overpowering, which we expected but wanted to try anyhow. We made a note to stick with the routine next time and opt for the fresh vegetarian rolls, which are full of flavor and crunch but light enough to leave room for a second course.
To that end, I'm a sucker for a good stir-fry and have never been disappointed with the offerings here. Jhanjay features the whole range of Thai entrees, curries, and noodle dishes, but a simple stir-fry, accompanied by a side of fluffy, steamed brown rice, is a basic, wholesome pleasure I find hard to resist. I had the garlic pepper, mixed vegetables in a buttery, peppery broth that played off the rich, dense flavors of the mushroom cake I ordered with it. My boyfriend had the spicy eggplant (the smaller, more delicately flavored Chinese variety), which he ordered interminably hot, but I tasted a piece and found it as tender and sweet as I remembered when I tried it in the past. Nothing's more off putting than a bitter wedge of crunchy, undercooked eggplant, and it happens more often than you'd expect, but not here.
With half a sampler platter resting in my gut, I reached capacity shortly after starting the meal. Our waitress obligingly boxed my food and thanked us genuinely, but we had some time before our next destination--a bluegrass bill at the Tractor--so we lingered over conversation and leisurely finished our wine, an Asian-food friendly German Riesling, nicely priced at $6 a glass. We finished up and skipped the few doors down to the Tractor, two-stepping and working up an appetite by evening's end. And there, at the end of the night, Jhanjay delivered once more, with a carton of delicious leftovers.