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House of Thai Cuisine resumes dine-in

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“Tom gati” is a coconut milk soup that can be prepared with banana flowers at Ashland’s House of Thai Cuisine. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Shrimp rolls come with spicy plum dipping sauce at Ashland’s House of Thai Cuisine. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
House special fried rice is prepared with chicken and shrimp at Ashland’s House of Thai Cuisine. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Thai iced tea can be prepared with cream or coconut milk at Ashland’s House of Thai Cuisine. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
“Tom gati” is a coconut milk soup that can be prepared with banana flowers at Ashland’s House of Thai Cuisine. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]

Thai restaurants locally took longer to fully reopen post-pandemic than just about any other genre.

The cuisine’s popularity as takeout is a likely reason. But I missed the atmosphere of some storied establishments, namely Ashland’s House of Thai Cuisine.

I’d chased rumors all summer that this longtime favorite near Southern Oregon University had reopened its dining room, only to encounter a bright yellow notice on the front door that service was solely to-go. Finally, last month, I spied a sign planted at the eatery’s driveway on Siskiyou Boulevard that dine-in had resumed!

With House of Thai’s signature Buddhist shrine out front and elephant sculptures and Asian artworks inside, little has changed in more than 30 years — except the menu. Previously serving more than 100 items, House of Thai has shaved about 25 dishes, including my favorite tempura squid, from its selection in the past decade or so.

If I couldn’t revisit an old favorite, I craved a guilty pleasure: shrimp rolls ($13.99). More accurately, these fried morsels are stuffed with cream cheese, imitation crabmeat and vegetables with just a hint of shrimp.

Presumably still made in house, they were exactly as I remembered from more than a decade ago. My partner, who had deemed them too heavy, gobbled up his portion, wishing only for a little more spicy plum dipping sauce. For diners truly desiring a lighter appetizer, it’s worth noting that of the eight available, only one — pork- and shrimp-stuffed dumplings — is steamed, rather than deep-fried.

My partner was more enamored of his Thai iced tea, the quintessential sweetened beverage topped with cream. Coconut milk adds 50 cents to the base price of $4.75.

Traditional coconut milk curries usually top our list of Thai dishes. Pumpkin curry ($16.99), in particular, jumped out at both of us for its seasonal appeal. If I had been ordering to suit just myself, I would have chosen green curry with eggplant and peas ($16.99).

Vouching for coconut milk in soup, I ventured it also could be spooned over rice. From the three coconut milk soups available, I sold my partner on a recipe that wowed me in my college days, when my student’s budget accommodated House of Thai about once a month.

“Tom gati,” a hot and sour soup ($16.99), can be ordered with either chicken or tofu, as well as thin rice noodles or … banana flowers. Long used, not only in Thai, but also Indian and Sri Lankan cooking, banana flowers — perhaps understandably so — are obscure in this region, where House of Thai is the only restaurant of which I’m aware that prepares them. Likening the texture and flavor to artichoke hearts or hearts of palm, I convinced my partner to try them with tofu.

Situating our meal more in the mainstream, he favored the house special fried rice ($17.99), boasting both chicken and shrimp, accented with pineapple, cashews and raisins, seasoned with curry powder. I was hard-pressed — despite the quantity of food so far on order, to skip one of my favorite noodle dishes: “pad woonsen,” thin rice noodles with black mushroom, tomatoes, scallions and egg ($14.99).

That I could enjoy another time from House of Thai’s lunch menu, which prices 15 dishes at $11.99 each, alongside jasmine rice and an eggroll. Offering such mainstays as pad Thai, red and yellow curries and orange chicken or tofu, lunch is available starting at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Regardless of the time of day, the restaurant does caution customers that dine-in service could take longer than they expect. Citing staffing shortages, House of Thai recommends calling ahead to verify seating availability and even ordering in advance.

Planning to see a movie, my partner and I arrived at the opportune moment to order before parties started filling the expansive dining room that’s long been a go-to for families and larger groups. Our courses came out in quick succession, the soup making an impressive entrance in its traditional concentric metal pot with flaming chimney.

Even that flourish couldn’t fully foreshadow the tom gati’s intense Southeast Asian aromatics. Lemongrass, ginger, galangal, dried chiles, kaffir lime — all were redolent throughout the broth and also evident in large, fibrous chunks that should be moved aside for ladling the soup into individual cups.

Less obvious were the banana flowers, which I recalled as long, purplish stalks, floating end-to-end around the pot’s circumference. But this time, they were cut into unremarkable, bite-sized pieces, slightly resembling jackfruit, save for what I assume were filaments of stamen that I excised before eating. Although the flowers didn’t make a strong enough impression on me this time to order again, the soup base itself suggests a potent health tonic and natural remedy against cold and flu.

Fairly bland next to the highly seasoned soup, the fried rice was delicate, not at all greasy, but also missing that fried garlic flavor I love. I would have enjoyed more acid to punch up the tomatoes or more sweetness to underscore the pineapple. The portion was hearty, however, affording some to take home.

Located at 1667 Siskiyou Blvd., House of Thai Cuisine is open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Call 541-488-2583. See houseofthaicuisineashland.com

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com