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Thai House

Once examples of exotic cuisine, Thai restaurants have become fairly commonplace in the Rogue Valley.

It's the rarer establishment that pulls off this South Asian style of cooking well. Most follow a trend toward formulaic fare that apparently caters to American palates. Jacksonville's Thai House, under new ownership, offers a few worthwhile alternatives to the area's standard menus.

Located at the far end of Jacksonville's historic downtown, past the intersection of California and Oregon streets, Thai House was closed for two months while the new owners settled in. The decade-old eatery reopened in late November with fresh paint and an updated decor.

Hot-pink and lime-green walls draw attention to burnished woodwork more in keeping with the town's Old West ambiance. Sleek modern chairs and tables are more welcoming than the old assortment and seemed to make better use of the space.

With just nine tables, the restaurant clearly runs on minimal staff. My friend and I waited a few minutes before a server greeted and seated us. I was happy to see a lunch menu produced, as I didn't recall that option on past visits.

The menu's 16 items all are priced at $7 and include a salad and potsticker. Items are similar to Thai restaurants elsewhere in the valley, but it soon became apparent that Thai House executes them with a bit more care and flair.

That sure-fire standby, pad Thai, seemed the best way to evaluate the restaurant's new approach. I ordered it with tofu. Although I lobbied for yellow curry with potatoes and carrots, my friend thought I was tending toward the predictable and insisted on the "spicy sweet basil" dish with chicken. Other protein choices are pork or beef.

To ward off the day's dampness and chill, we requested a pot of hot tea. In addition to the dishes mentioned above, we could have selected stir-frys of cashews, fresh ginger, garlic and pepper sauce, mixed vegetables, pra luck (spinach, broccoli and cabbage), spicy green beans, spicy kung pao sauce, orange chicken or teriyaki chicken.

Fried rice and three noodle dishes rounded out the menu. Being partial to noodles, I noted that six of the 16 entrees were prepared with bell peppers, which deterred me from considering them.

My friend's dish was among those, but when it arrived, I noted a dearth of bell peppers and a profusion of green chilies. The thick, oblong slices dominated the plate and infused the whole basil leaves with a heat that momentarily closed my throat. He happily consumed the entire portion, commenting that our spice-loving friend would have approved.

I approved of the pad Thai's generous inclusion of fried egg, not so much of the bean sprouts, combined in almost equal portions with the rice noodles. The sauce was neither too sweet nor spicy, but a pleasant accompaniment to the tofu.

It was Thai House's side dishes that won me over. The vibrant green salad incorporated a few baby spinach leaves with the standard iceberg lettuce and shredded cabbage and carrots. In lieu of the one-note chartreuse-hued dressing common to the area's other Thai restaurant's, Thai House's zesty vinaigrette with an overtone of sesame transformed a fairly ordinary salad into one that could sustain a much larger portion.

Likewise, the potsticker was a welcome change from the spring rolls that usually accompany those chartreuse-dressed salads. Thai House's potsticker has a savory pork filling and crunchy wrapper served with a dollop of sweet chili sauce.

Our tea apparently was forgotten, a fact I lamented upon spying the cheery red pot at a neighboring table. But we'd most likely be back for more than the tea.

With entrees similar to those served at lunch, Thai House's dinner menu lists appetizers, including coconut shrimp, sweet-hot Thai soups, green papaya salad and even a short list of Chinese entrees.

— Sarah Lemon