3843 Richmond Street, Hillcrest
Remember, green curry. Don’t come home without it!”
Carla’s words ring in my ear. She’s been on a curry binge ever since I hit the Indian food truck six weeks ago. Says it helps her keep up her work pace. And as luck would have it, I’m heading for uptown. There’s a Thai place on Richmond called Amarin — I hear it’s pretty reasonable.
So, here I am. Uptown. A wet, windy Tuesday, slushing my way up University. I spot the Alibi and turn down toward this li’l ol’ brown-painted building with brown canopies and a red sign: “Amarin.” It says they close at 3:00. Ulp. I check my watch. It’s already 2:00.
A handwritten sign on the front door reads, “Please use the side door.” So I squish under a canopy that runs down the side of the building, shake the wet off, and take a peek inside. Bet I’m the only customer. Dang! Place is crowded! There’s even a line ahead of me at the reception desk.
“Name?” a tall Thai gal asks the guy ahead of me.
She writes it down, then calls a waiter to lead him to a table. The next waiter brings me along. We troop past a giant golden Buddha into a light-brown-and-red space with a gold-tiled wall that’s got a six-foot-high wine cabinet built in. The waiter sits me down at a cloth-covered table with glass on top.
I’m starting to sweat a little. Gold panels make the walls look expensive, along with that wall of wine…I could be in a little deep here. Plus, the first items I open to on the menu are, like, “specialties.” Choo-chi duck, 15 bucks. Braised lamb, $23. Massaman beef, $13. Fish plates, around $14.
But then, whew: soups start at $3.59, salads are around $8, and the curries and noodles and rice dishes go from around $8 to $14, depending on the meat you pick.
“You should look at the back page,” says David, who’s at the next table. We’re squeezed together, in a long row of single tables here.
Oh, yes. “Lunch Specials.” Everything’s about a dollar cheaper. So, red curry with chicken, pork, or mock duck (a vegetarian imitation that has a “plucked duck” texture, according to the Thai waiter, Krit) runs $6.99. With beef, shrimp, or squid, $7.99, and with veggies, only $4.99. That includes salad, egg roll, and “golden triangle,” a kind of potato-curry sambussa.
Krit takes David’s order. Gaprow. It has sautéed onions, bell peppers, green beans, with garlic, chili, hot basil leaves, and chicken. It’s $6.99.
Two minutes later he’s back for my order.
Hmm… This being a nice cold, wet day, I’ve gotta have soup. There are four to choose from: mixed veggies; potak (a “classic Thai coastal cuisine soup” with ginger, lemongrass, and mushrooms); tom kah, with galangal (Asian ginger), lime, lemongrass, and coconut milk; and tom yum. I go for the tom yum — love that sour soup, with its roasted chili paste and a limey, lemony thing going on. Shrimp’s usually my fave, but today, when Krit asks what kind of meat I want, I choose the pla meuk. That’s squid.
“How spicy?” he says. “Normal?”
“What’s normal?” I ask.
“On a scale of ten, it’s three,” he says.
“Make it an eight, then,” I say. I can tell these guys tone it down for Western taste, but me, I’d rather burn. Nothing worse than a lame tom yum.
So that’s $9, but just as I’m ordering, David’s lunch turns up. Wow. Gaprow. Big white plate filled with colorful veggies, and chicken, plus a ball of saffron rice. On impulse, I ask for that, too, but with pork ($6.99).
“So, a bowl of tom yum?” Krit says.
“Uh, no, not the bowl.” That’s the other thing about tom yum for me — it’s got to be in the hot pot with the charcoal fire burning up the center chimney. Even though the bowl of soup with squid is $3.99 and the hot pot’s $8.99 and enough for two. “Hot pot, please,” I say. So we’re at $16, but no regrets.
And when the tom yum arrives — hot and bubbling, red flames shooting up — it’s perfect. The lemongrass, lime leaves, mushrooms, roasted chili paste, lime juice, cilantro — flavor’s deep with twangy sharp points. It transports you. Halls of Montezuma, Shangri-La, I can hear the monks of the Temple of the Dawn chanting to the rising sun…I swear, you taste the taste, and you’re mesmerized by the flame down your gullet, just like the real flame dancing in front of you. Yes, the squid’s a little chewy and tastes like, well, walnuts come to mind…I remember why I prefer shrimp. But it’s all still great, and I’m trippin’ on it.
Krit kinda wakes me up when he brings the gaprow. The pork’s good and garlicky, the rice helps me cool down from the soup, and all over the salad is that yummy peanut sauce, Thailand’s gift to the world.
The menu says this place has been open 17 years. “It took a long time to get this popular,” Krit says, looking around. “But now we have a new location in Mira Mesa: Siam Nara, a more traditional Thai, less compromise for Western taste. And we are opening another in Pacific Beach, Narraya. That’s, like, modern Thai, what the hip people are eating in Bangkok.”
It’s still raining when I head out past the jungle plants. It’s nearly 3:00. Then something makes me stop. Omygod. Carla! A moment later I’m back at the desk. “One green curry with chicken,” I blurt. “To go.” ■
The Place: Amarin Thai restaurant, 3843 Richmond Street, Hillcrest 619-296-6506
Type of Food: Thai
Prices: Lunch specials (weekdays, 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.) include red curry with chicken, pork, or mock duck ($6.99); pad p&w (sweet-and-sour, with veggies and beef), $7.99; soups, e.g. tom yum, with chicken or tofu, $3.59 (bowl), $7.99; pad Thai noodles with roasted duck, $9.99; pork “larb” salad, $7.99; braised lamb, $22.99
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., 5:00–10:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; till 11:00 p.m., Friday; noon–11:00 p.m., Saturday; noon–10:00 p.m., Sunday
Buses: 1, 1A, 10, 11
Nearest Bus Stop: University at Richmond