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Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai – 11/12/11

Website

Location: 5313 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 11-10

Sat-Sun: 12-10

Since our vegetarian friend, TN, was coming over to hang out on Saturday, we decided it was the perfect time to finally visit Ballard’s only completely vegetarian restaurant, Jhanjay Thai. I will admit to being an unrepentant omnivore, so I’m not very familiar with vegetarian cuisine. I’ve tried a couple of vegetarian places and found the cuisine uniformly bland. J, on the other hand, spent seven years of his life as a vegan until the day he had a bacon epiphany.

Jhanjay Thai sits on Ballard Ave. just a couple doors down from Bastille. It’s a long, skinny restaurant with a décor that leans heavily towards natural materials and good lighting. Lots of wood. Plants everywhere. Their menu, which mentions that they use no fish or meat sauces, is quite large with a selection of interesting Thai dishes, some of which were unfamiliar to me. They also offer tea, coffee, beer, wine, and desserts.

The Service:

It feels odd saying this but the servers were too friendly and attentive. Every five minutes during the meal, someone would come over to ask how the food was or if we needed anything. We wondered if this was their normal service or if they had guessed we were doing a review. This intrusiveness slightly impacted our opinion of the place, to be honest. The rate that the dishes came out was way too quick. We had barely started on our appetizers when our entrees came out.

The Drinks:

The three of us shared a large pot of flavorful jasmine tea.

The Food:

We ordered two appetizers. First, the Wonton Cream Cheese, corn and diced carrots mixed with cream cheese and wrapped in wonton wrappers, deep fried and served with plum sauce. The wontons were not fried long enough; resulting in a pale, limp appetizer. The soupy filling added an unappetizing sogginess. It would have benefited from a heavier, binding element. The plum sauce was bland and forgettable.

Our other appetizer was the Tofu Satay, extra firm tofu, marinated with herbs and spices, served with peanut sauce and cucumber salad. Much better than the wontons. The very fresh tofu had a delicious smoky flavor that played off the dark, rich peanut sauce quite well. I am not a fan of peanut sauce but the deep, nutty flavor of this one almost made me one. The tofu satay was plated very attractively.

For his entrée, J ordered the Nun’s Noodles, udon noodles stir fried with enoki mushrooms and mixed vegetables in a light chili sauce. He thought it was good and flavorful but pretty spicy for a two on their spiciness scale. The udon noodles were nice and firm as were the chunks of deep fried tofu. He was surprised at the strong mushroom flavor of the thin enoki mushrooms. The sauce reminded him of good lo mein. J did feel the portion size seemed small compared with similar dishes at other Thai restaurants.

TN chose a dish she’s had many times elsewhere, Tom Kha, hot and sour soup simmered with coconut milk, galangal, mushrooms, lemon grass, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, and deep fried tofu. The broth, while a bit thin, had a pleasant coconut flavor with just a hint of lime. She felt there could’ve been more and a better variety of vegetables though. She ended up adding garnishes from the tofu satay to her soup. The tofu had the right texture, soft on the inside. Like J, TN thought the portion size was smaller than she had expected but it did hit the spot on a cold evening.

My entrée was the Phad Ka Prau, onions, garlic, bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans, chili, and deep fried tofu, stir fried with sweet basil, including a side of brown rice. The sauce had a rich garlic, spicy flavor with caramel undertones. Very good. I’ve never particularly liked tofu because it tends to be too spongy for my taste, but their deep fried tofu was pretty good. There was a nice mixture of vegetables but they were just a tad bit overcooked. Especially the green beans which didn’t have the crispiness I expected. Unlike J, I felt it was perfectly spiced and just the right portion size. Although the brown rice was of a good quality, it just didn’t have the nutty flavor I prefer.

The Price:

Large pot of Jasmine Tea: 3.00

Wonton Cream Cheese: 7.50

Tofu Satay: 7.50

Nun’s Noodles: 8.95

Tom Kha (Large): 8.95

Phad Ka Prau: 8.95

Side of Brown Rice: 2.00

The Verdict:

J said Jhanjay Thai is one of the better vegetarian restaurants in Seattle, mainly because the food was very flavorful and I have to agree. My entrée was quite good, as was the tofu satay. Even though both TN and J thought their portions were a rather small, they did enjoy their meals. I would say, as a non-vegetarian, that the food was good enough that I didn’t miss the meat. Next time we need someplace to take a vegetarian, we’ll probably choose Jhanjay Thai.

Four out of the five Thai restaurants in Ballard are actually pretty good. In our opinion, for the flavor, variety of dishes, and the awesome brown rice, Thai Thani comes out on top. Then there’s pretty much a three-way tie for second best, depending on what you’re looking for in a Thai restaurant.

Uma Thai is good for quick, cheap take-out, especially if you pay cash. If you’re introducing someone to Thai food for the first time, the mild but good dishes at Thaiku are your safest bet. And Jhanjay Thai is the place to go when there’s more than one vegetarian in a group for its flavorful, interesting entrees that even a carnivore will enjoy. That leaves Mae Ploy in last place for its okay but nothing special menu.

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