141 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
As you might imagine, I spend a fair amount of time searching for place to eat for a Feast story. Sometimes readers email me a recommendation (more of that please), but most of the time my research brings me online. Say what you will about Yelp, but its crowd-source restaurant coverage is pretty thorough — even restaurants that don’t have a web page have a Yelp page.
Such is the case with Solana Beach’s Similan Thai. Knowing I would be in the neighborhood, and in the mood for curry, I found the page listing for the restaurant, and though it had been open for only seven weeks it featured more than two dozen mostly positive reviews. Whether due to high standards or innate mistrust of the human masses, I don’t put a lot of stock in Yelp reviews. However, in this case a user-posted photo caught my attention. Featuring a dish called Gang Ped Duck, it showed a lovely pan-seared duck breast resting atop a dish of red curry, surrounded by fruits and vegetables. It looked great.
I dropped by Similan for lunch and was surprised and disappointed to see how simple and uninviting the storefront appeared. Had I not been zeroing in on the place, I’d probably have passed it by and sought a meal elsewhere. Instead, with visions of duck breast to guide me, I stepped inside.
What a difference a door makes. Similan’s interior is vastly more interesting, with colorful Thai architectural embellishments and a folksy wall mural painted to resemble an ocean with several model fish. Made from intricately painted coconut leaves, the vibrant craft-fish add something joyful to the décor, and as the dining room wasn’t very crowded, I made sure to sit facing them.
Disappointment nearly struck again when I realized the duck curry I sought doesn’t appear on the lunch menu. I considered a panang curry, pad thai noodles, or tom kha soup. But they all seem so typical of a Thai restaurant, stuff I needn’t drive to Solana Beach to find.
But the friendly staff assured me I was welcome to order from the dinner menu. While the 22 dollar gang ped duck cost a bit more than the 9 to 14 dollar lunch dishes, I hadn’t come all this way not to order it. I just hoped it’d be worth it.
Well, when you factor in how much I brought home as leftovers, yes. The red curry carried a lot of sweetness up front, with a nice spicy kick rolling across the tongue soon after. Playing off that coconut sweetness were chunks of pineapple and deseeded lychee. The latter felt special — how often do find lychee in your lunch? Cherry tomatoes and bell peppers brought a little more acidity, while zucchini and eggplant delivered earthiness (I’m happy to eat them, but let’s not pretend anybody cares about their flavor contribution).
Of course, holding it all together was the duck, a beautifully umami bird sourced by free-range-chicken purveyor Mary’s. That a Thai spot would go to such a source indicates a better quality than you’d find at most similar restaurants. That it happened to appear in an interesting and photogenic recipe leaves me with a positive lasting impression and some tasty leftovers.