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Friday, August 30, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

One-stop shopping for two food moods: Japanese and Thai

Special to The Seattle Times

Japan Thai Restaurant Project


509 S. Third St., Renton (south side of Third between Morris and Smithers) 425-227-8885

$$

Japanese/Thai

Recommended

Hours: Mon-Fri: 11a.m.-9 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, 12 p.m.-9 p.m.Saturdays, 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sundays

No obstacles to access / major credit cards / beer and wine.

I associate the word "project" with grade-school science projects, and, to draw out the analogy, the Japan Thai Restaurant Project is better than the "lifecycle of a butterfly" diorama but not as good as an erupting baking-soda volcano.

The Project, not to be confused with any Frank Gehry projects, is an unassuming storefront just off downtown Renton's piazza, a windswept public park completed in 1999.

Seattle has many great civic amenities, but a piazza is not one of them. Neither is a restaurant that serves an extensive menu of both Thai and Japanese food.

This isn't fusion food, despite the composite Japanese and Thai flag on the front of the menu.

There are Japanese dishes, and there are Thai ones, but there is no yakisoba phad Thai or red-curry sushi. In fact, there's no sushi at all; the Japanese side of the menu runs more toward noodles like Oyako Udon (chicken and egg over noodles, $6.95) and tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet, $6.95).

Over in the Thai department of the Project, the staff of the Ministry of Curry has been hard at work coming up with the names "Emerald Curry" for the green curry and "Ruby Curry" for the tasty red curry (both $5.95 veggie, $6.95 meat). The Panang and Japanese curries don't have catchy names yet, but you can't rush bureaucrats.

Our entrees were, to a dish, fresh and full-flavored, while our appetizers (from the salad section of the menu) were unpleasantly bland. Don't they know that menu items must all pull together for the good of the Project?

Service is quick and wisecracking like the coffee shop on Seinfeld. We sent our waiter away several times while deciding, and she feigned annoyance with a laugh but never forgot about us — there's no need to worry that "a few more minutes" will turn into 15.

The restaurant is a large and comfortable room that evokes Renton more than it does Japan or Thailand, and if you sit in the front window you can watch civic-minded Rentonites on their way to the piazza.

As you might expect, the Japan Thai Restaurant Project is an outgrowth of a pre-existing project: the marriage of Dennis and Maew Hayashida (of Japan and Thailand, respectively). They opened the Project in spring of 2001.

Overall, it's not worth a special trip to Renton, but if you're in the area and get a phad Thai or broiled mackerel craving, the Project is worth a stop — they even have a large parking lot.

The JTRP is a work in progress, but this one shows potential, and I have a feeling that even if they never achieve baking-soda volcano status, someone will be hanging a ribbon on this project sooner or later.

Check please:

Salad roll: The promised peanuts and cilantro in these rolls were MIA, leaving some rice vermicelli, lettuce and carrots, and a flavorless dipping sauce. The essence of bland.

Papaya salad: Another mistake, and we started to worry. At its best, papaya salad is a riot of flavor, spicy and sour. This one, tasting mostly of sugary lime juice and with some past-their-prime prawns, was not papaya salad at its best.

Phad Thai with fried tofu: Suddenly, all was redeemed by this huge plate of phad Thai, light pink and loaded with flavor. We fought over the last noodle.

Saba: A couple of good-sized mackerel fillets are given a heavy coat of miso paste and then broiled. Though the paste was spread a little thick, the generous portion of fish was juicy and fresh, and the miso made it salty and complex. As always with mackerel, watch out for bones.

Japan Thai Fried Rice: The standard kitchen-sink fried-rice treatment (or is it fried-rice project?) is jazzed up with a shake of turmeric-heavy curry powder and plenty of Chinese sausage, chicken, and shrimp.

Itemized bill, meal for two:

Salad roll: $4.50

Papaya salad: $5.00

Phad Thai: $5.95

Saba: $7.95

Japan Thai Fried Rice: $7.95

Tax: $2.92

Total: $34.27

Matthew Amster-Burton: mamster@mamster.net.

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