Food needs nudge to match quality of gracious hospitality
Special to The Seattle Times
The main impression one takes away from dinner at the Royal Palm is that of having been uncommonly well accommodated. Thai restaurants, run more often than not by people reared within gracious Thai culture, often feature blue-ribbon service. But at Royal Palm, the Thai mainstay at the corner of 65th and Roosevelt, servers seem to know what you want before you know it yourself. A sideways glance at a busperson brings a swift flurry of attention; a mouthful consumed from a water glass brings an immediate refill.
The large space is an aesthetic delight, with walls the colors of saffron and red curry, Thai silks (or something that looks an awful lot like them) beneath the table glass, and lavish orchid sprays on every table. An open kitchen abets the sense of open arms. The differently-abled are welcomed into the second-floor walkup by means of an elevator from the underground parking lot into Royal Palm's quarters.
The hospitality, in other words, could not be better. The food, however, could. Don't get me wrong ... nothing we sampled flagrantly failed on this fat menu of appetizers, soups, vegetarian dishes, salads, curries, seafood, rice dishes, meat and poultry dishes, and noodles. Nothing's outright wrong among these meals — and some is pretty darned right.
But nothing knocked our socks off, and that's a problem where entrees cost between $7 and $15. Oh, there was a happy hour with a decent selection of beers and a refreshing $5.50 appetizer of tofu rolls. The most expensive item on the menu, crispy duck in ginger sauce ($15.50), virtually lit up the restaurant with its steaming aromas (see below). But on the whole, quality was standard. And something about the place — the prices, the service, not least its 16-year tenure in this space — enticed us into expecting just a little bit more.
Lamb sate: It's that old saw, chicken sate with peanut sauce, livened up with lean New Zealand lamb as an inspired stand-in. (Why don't more Thai restaurants do this?) The meat, very flavorful, strung upon six generous skewers, sang lovely harmonies with the standard-issue peanut sauce but featured chewy pieces of cartilage about every other bite. (Maybe that's why more Thai restaurants don't do this.)
Yellow chicken curry: This inoffensive, mild-mannered curry deserved better than the overcooked chicken strips and huge, undercooked potato chunks swimming in it. We liked the additional pickled cukes and apple chutney, if only for the welcome flavor they lent.
Pad Thai with goong: Again: just fine. Nothing to write home about; nothing the least bit delicate or nuanced. The 45 cents extra we paid for the goong — prawns — bought us only about five, but a perfectly inoffensive five they were.
Crispy duck in ginger sauce: The one "wow" we experienced. The duck flank came to the table dramatically steaming and popping, its server carefully setting it on a bed of fragrant greens, drizzling it with ginger sauce and topping it with crowns of tomato and pineapple. The meat was tender, slightly overcooked, and swathed in a skin of ethereal complexity — so fragrant I could have sworn they'd fired up some incense in the room when it arrived. The greens, having absorbed all these lovely mysteries and alive with big chunks of ginger and garlic, made an enchanting accompaniment.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Lamb sate $7.95
Yellow chicken curry $7.95
Pad Thai with goong $7.95
Crispy duck in ginger sauce $15.50
Kathryn Robinson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company