Thapanee Thai Cuisine - A Haven for Truly Superb Thai Food
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
"Sensational" is the best way to describe eating Thai food, precisely because it engages so many sensory experiences. The eyes are dazzled by the brilliant array of colors, while the nose, and taste buds are totally immersed in the spicy pungent aromas, the sweet, sour, and "pika-pika" tastes, which are often blended together in a single, delicious dish. Thai food is designed to stimulate, with exciting natural ingredients combined to tantalize our palates - coriander, ginger, fresh basil, various mints, aromatic leaves, lemongrass, banana flowers, green and red chilies, garlic, tumeric, crushed peanuts, water chestnuts, green onion, limes, nam pla (fish sauce), bamboo and lotus root. It's amazing how easily shrimp, chicken, beef, and vegetables can be interchanged with the varied pastes, soup stocks, and curry bases to create those wonderfully rich Thai entrees! "'
The above serves as a perfect intro to today's review and is excerpted from my January 24, 2003 review of King & I Thai Restaurant in Tamuning. It's perfect since that review was done at the time when Kim Screeton owned it (the ownership changed in late 2004 if memory serves), and now Kim has established herself in a new restaurant that bears her birth name, Thapanee. [Photo: Kim aka Thapanee, owner and Ken Stewart, Guam Food Guy]
Thepanee Thai Cuisine opened a little over a week ago and has quickly built an astonished clientele, many of whom are fast becoming regulars. Located in the Hafa Adai Exchange across from Rambies Kamayan and down the hall from The Curry Kebab and Lieng's Vietnamese Restaurant, Thapanee is one of the most ornate and well-appointed restaurants I've seen in a while. The rest rooms are so clean you're afraid to use them as they look like displays in a design shop. There is a continuous melodious bubbling sound of water churning through ambient fountains, which accompanies gentle Thai background music. It's entrancing!
There are about 14 highly polished wooden tables with plenty of seating and the dining room appears twice its size because of wall-length mirrors in the back that reflect the space back on itself. This place has a charm and appeal that simply caresses you once you sit down and start to get accustomed to your new home. Woven table mats and attractive wooden condiment holders grace each table, with chopsticks resting in woven covers.
The menu is huge, with the first page devoted to Lunch Specials served from 11am-2pm Mon-Sat, with prices from $4.99-$6.99. We came at dinner and ordered the Fried Spring Rolls ($5.99) based on a departing customer's high recommendation. I ordered a Thai Tea ($2.25) and was amazed by the huge goblet in which it was served - it lasted me throughout the meal. I usually don't like Spring Rolls, but these were indeed exceptional, the best I've ever had! They were crisp and light with the thin wrapper not the least greasy and filled with cabbage, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and mung bean noodles. They were served in a boat-shaped dish with a dipping well containing sweet chili sauce.
Next we ordered Beef Satay, which had eight skewers of beef marinated in special Thai seasonings and served with a pika peanut satay sauce. The beef was tender and not overcooked, retaining some juices. Our next dish was a Combination Pad Thai ($9/small) with shrimp and chicken. We ordered medium heat and this was because of my preference to error on the mild side of caution, though my partner Zee would have been happier with a few more degrees of heat added! This was a generous portion of fresh ingredients with an abundance of chicken, noodles, egg, bean sprouts and Chinese leek. Peanuts and a lime slice are on the plate so you can blend to suit your own taste.
Our next entree, Combo Green Curry ($10/small) also with chicken and shrimp was on the sixth page inside Thapanee's encyclopedic menu (what don't they have?) in the "Curry Dishes" Section. This was one of the most flavorful green curry I've had in a while, with it's savory green curry paste filled with cooked bamboo, eggplant, string beans, red bell pepper, and lots of basil leaf, cooked lovingly in coconut milk, with a side of steamed white rice. Just fabulous!
The next dish was actually the best tofu-based vegetarian dish I think I've ever had, anywhere. It was Tofu Stir-Fried with Lemon Grass($6.99), and had an intensely-fresh lemongrass essence that lightly-permeated the blend of string beans, carrots, onions, straw mushrooms, green onions, baby corn, and tender tofu. A hint of oyster sauce is added for balance. Even the presentation was dramatic, with all of these colorful natural ingredients and fresh stir-fried veggies still crunchy and full of life served on a white porcelain-glazed leaf-shaped platter. Zee commented about this being different than then normally tough-skinned, chewy tofu slices one normally gets - she was spot on! Just so you know, every vegetarian on Guam is going to be excited about Thapanee Thai. There are 19 Vegetarian Stir-Fried Dishes on the menu with each served with a bowl of rice.
Visibly posted on the menu is a statement certifying that all of the dishes are prepared without MSG! You can also indicate your preferred degree of spiciness, ranging from Mild, Medium, Hot or "Thai Hot"!
Our last dish (seems like we've eaten a lot already!) was just magical. It was a Chicken Salad ($10/sm). Even though it's under the Spicy Salad Dishes section on the menu, it wasn't really spicy. But it was quite flavorful and fresh with generous amounts of cilantro, cucumber, onion, and some tomato, laced with lemon juice, fish sauce, and dried red peppers. It could have been just a bit more tart with some more lemon juice.
Our server Connie diligently handled customer requests as more and more families came in to the restaurant. We were the second group to be seating this evening but by the time we left there were customers at six tables. I was just so happy to see my friend Kim again and she was equally pleased to see me after this long hiatus. Her son, Simon Utagen, was doing most of the cooking in the kitchen. I don't really know him but his food is flavored by passion!
Still new, Thapanee is only taking cash at this time, with credit card capabilities in the works. There is a big screen TV that'll probably get some use for games, though I personally don't want to see a TV mar the peaceful, harmonious culinary experience created by Thapanee's elegantly cozy, wood-toned ambiance. Lunch is available from 11am-2pm Mon-Sat and dinner is served seven days, from 5-11pm. Call 649-4463 for take-out and information. I hope you fall in love with Thapanee Thai Cuisine and its magnificent menu diversity and beautiful natural environment much the same as I did...it's a love that grows stronger, plate by plate!