Our best entrée was another special, a whole (but headless and tailless) rainbow trout, crisp of skin and only slightly overcooked, with a spirited mango salad that brought it back to life. Another special flopped: Braised Siam Duck, cut into boneless medallions, had aromatic Chinese five-spice seasoning but was severely overcooked. (I wished I’d stuck to my original plan to order the braised New Zealand lamb rack with Massaman curry sauce, coconut, and peanuts, although, as with the cows, I wonder where Thailand might be stashing sheep.)
Wok-charred squid, edible but not memorable, had those three asterisks on the menu for “very spicy.” NOT! It was another acceptable dish, with a spice level of around two on a scale of ten (before the night in the fridge upped it, like the papaya salad, to about a six). The seasoning needed more balance and richness. I wished I had a bottle of nam pla on the table to add a few drops.
During my Thai travels, I made friends with a woman from Chiang Mai who told me that the best pad thai in the country was at a little noodle joint in her hometown, located across the street from the hotel where I was staying. It was spectacular, indeed. Ingredients included a generous dose of Thai dried shrimp, a somewhat funky, aromatic element that takes getting used to, but by the time I reached Chiang Mai I was fond of it. Back home, I’ve found it a rarity in local Thai restaurants. Dried shrimp are absent from Chedi’s pad thai, but the fresh shrimp are succulent and tender, the noodle dressing tasty. I might order it again.
And there’s the rub. You can find more authentic, exciting restaurants closer, right in San Diego, or on a shorter jaunt north to Linda Vista. The excitement of Siamese cuisine lies in its scintillating combinations of flavors — sweet, sour, hot, salty-fishy, fresh, all in one dish. Chedi Thai is a lovely place to eat, but it’s a tame version in nice surroundings, quintessentially La Jolla, adapted for cautious farang. “I won’t really come back here, not just for the consommé,” said Lynne. I wouldn’t come back for that either, nor for the pad thai. For those who live nearby, they’re good, but for our group, with so many other destinations to explore, it’s bye, bye, American Thai. ■
★★1/2 (Good to Very Good)
737 Pearl Street (off Eads Avenue), La Jolla, 858-551-8424; chedithaibistro.com
HOURS: Weekdays 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., 5:00–10:00 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Starters, soups, and salads $4–$9; noodles and rice dishes $10–$11; main courses (specialties, stir-fries, curries) $11–$24; lunch special $9.
CUISINE & BEVERAGES: California-tilted Thai, all ingredients fresh and healthy. Full bar, including chic cocktails, beers, hot sakes, with adequate, affordable wine list.
PICK HITS: Beef consommé with tamarind; shrimp parcels; vegetable dumplings; green papaya salad (ask for extra-hot); whole rainbow trout with mango salad, pad thai. Other good bets: shrimp lemongrass soup, spicy calamari appetizer, braised rack of lamb, drunken noodles.
NEED TO KNOW: Pretty decor. Free parking in back. Reserve for prime time. Noisy when busy. Brown rice and quinoa available as alternatives to jasmine rice; cashews often used instead of peanuts. Friendly young servers are efficient but can’t answer all questions. Plenty of starters and sides for vegetarians and vegans and some entrées adaptable, but ask server whether the sauce/seasonings include nam pla (fish sauce).