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Ban Mai Thai: A restaurant to remember

Ban Mai Thai isn’t just another Thai restaurant. It creates its own signature cocktails, has a long specialty menu, and on weekends it doubles as a sushi bar.

Located at 1887 N.E. Seventh St. in Grants Pass, Ban Mai Thai is a simply decorated establishment with an open floor plan allowing servers to move easily throughout the dining room and help customers. My husband and I spent our Valentine’s Day dinner there and were pleased to find other couples doing the same.

We were seated right away in a comfortable booth, though its proximity to the door meant a cold draft as people came and went. I ordered a Thai iced tea ($2.75), which may seem like an odd choice during winter, but the smooth and creamy drink was a nice palette cleanser before our meal.

The vegetable tempura ($9.50) was also a satisfying choice before our dinner. The platter was filled with steamed broccoli, mushrooms, onions and green beans lightly battered and deep fried in vegetable oil. The outer layer was light and crisp. Inside, the vegetables were soft and hot. The fear with deep-fried veggies is taking a bite and removing the entire vegetable from the fried batter. This wasn’t the case. The tempura was served with a small bowl of sweet sauce that blended well with the steamed flavors of the vegetables.

For my entree, I ordered the Panang Curry with tofu ($12). Traditional panang is quite different than the green, red and yellow varieties most people are used to, although the curry is growing in popularity among Thai restaurants. Panang should taste salty with a hint of peanut flavor. Ban Mai Thai’s panang definitely packed a salty punch that gave flavor to the springy tofu. It also consisted of tender green beans, carrots and red bell peppers. The bowl it was served in was large and shallow, and the steamed rice was served on the side. Part of me wished the curry was slightly thicker, but the flavors were so distinct and nutty, I wasn’t disappointed.

My husband ordered the Shiitake Mushroom Stir Fry with chicken ($14). This dish isn’t for someone who simply tolerates mushrooms; it’s definitely a mushroom-lover’s meal, with the shiitake providing a squishy texture and the white mushrooms representing the springier side.

The stir fry was served on a large plate and included onions, carrots, green onion and garlic, with a bowl of steamed rice on the side. The contents were smothered in a garlicky brown sauce that made the dish come alive. The mushrooms were sautéed to a juicy perfection and the vegetables were nice and tender. The chicken was cut thin and didn’t take over the mushrooms in quantity or quality. The sauce was the most interesting part of the meal, bringing out the soy flavors of the shiitake.

While the menu at Ban Mai Thai is one double-sided sheet, each category boasts several varieties of stir fries, curries, salads, soups and noodles. From past dining experiences, the Pumpkin Curry with tofu ($12) was sweet, salty and thick. The portioning of Ban Mai Thai’s tasty Pad See-Ew ($12) is huge, yet easily eaten in one sitting.

Perhaps the most surprising item on the menu is the Thai Ocean Basil Soup ($17). Consisting of shrimp, scallop and squid, this soup isn’t for the faint of heart. The lemon juice it’s seasoned with creates one of the most refreshing broths imaginable. The basil tones down the citrus flavors, but only a little. The broth alone clears the senses and warms one’s insides like a rare elixir.

The establishment serves Thai beers on draft and in the bottle, as well as name brand beer and ciders. It also serves wine by the glass and bottle, including a plum wine. Prices vary.

With a specials menu two boards long, it’s hard to narrow down what you want to eat. However, the great thing about Thai food is taking home leftovers. The great thing about Ban Mai Thai is the friendly service and flavorful dishes warrant repeat visits.

Ban Mai Thai is closed Tuesdays, but is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday it opens at 11:30 and closes at 9. Happy Hour is Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3 5 p.m. Sushi is served from 5 to 9 p.m. only on Saturday and Sunday. The menu is available at banmaigp.com and the number for takeout is 541-476-2578.

Photo by Jordan Marie McCaw. Panang Curry with tofu, green beans, broccoli carrots and red bell peppers.