Every neighborhood, practically every block, in Seattle has its own Thai restaurant. Many are good, some are bad, most are somewhere in the middle. Very few do anything to set them apart from the myriad of similar spots around town. Savatdee, based only on its dinner menu, pleasant al fresco dining area, and selection of beers on tap, would already be at the top of the heap. Then, tucked inside that menu, like an afterthought, is the piece of paper where that shows Savatdee's other side: the Lao menu. Just one loose page tucked inside a bound dinner menu of many pages, it holds culinary treasures available in few restaurants in town.
The food of Northern Thailand and Laos is a different one from the beach cuisine or Bangkok street food usually showcased in Seattle. It hails from the people of neighboring Laos, who have migrated into Northern Thailand, and is often referred to as Issan Thai. Rather than plain white rice, the staple of the meal is sticky rice, which Savatdee serves in the traditional woven basket. The proper way to eat the food is to use your fingers (which always makes for a fun, if messy, meal), rolling a ball of sticky rice and using that to pick up the fragrant foods.
Fragrant is the operative word. While some Lao dishes are acceptable for the uninitiated (like the deep-fried quail on Savatdee's Lao menu), one of the defining features of Lao cuisine is a heavy hand with strong flavors like fish sauce. For example, papaya salad, a classic Thai dish, is available on both the Thai and Lao menu at Savatdee. Those looking for a version heavy on shrimp paste stink--and the accompanying, much more pleasant, savory flavor--should venture onto the Lao menu.
With the dual menus, it makes it easy to take baby steps into the world of Lao cuisine. The goi goong is a favorite, a busy prawn salad bursting with the bright crunch of lettuce and green beans, while highlighting the flavors of galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, typical of the regional cuisine. Dishes like this mean that Savatdee offers Roosevelt both some of the better neighborhood Thai restaurants and a tasty little peek into the cuisine of Laos.