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Ashland gains Asian ‘melting pot’

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Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Singapore noodles can be ordered with tofu (pictured) or chicken at Sawaddee in Ashland.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune. Yellow curry is one of three types at Ashland’s Sawaddee.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Spicy tuna dumplings are hand-formed at Ashland’s Sawaddee.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Coconut panna cotta is one of three desserts at Ashland’s Sawaddee.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Steamed white rice augments yellow curry at Ashland’s Sawaddee.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Rice vermicelli are the typical noodle in this curry-spiced Singaporean dish.
Sawaddee occupies former Senor Sam’s site

In a town that doesn’t lack for either sushi bars or Thai restaurants, the new Sawaddee brings both cuisines under a single Ashland roof.

Characterizing their menu as a “melting pot,” proprietors originally from Thailand and Indonesia cite more than two decades in the restaurant industry. Indeed, efficient hustle and bustle — despite Sawaddee’s presence for less than a month in Ashland’s former Señor Sam’s — confirmed longtime expertise.

Although merging several Asian genres, Sawaddee’s menu is manageable, for both staff and diners. Instead of nearly infinite variations on stir-fries that tweak just a single ingredient, Thai entrees number a dozen with two protein choices: chicken or tofu. Pad Thai and curries are prominent, alongside “drunken noodles” and vegetables in peanut sauce.

The sushi menu is more extensive, offering nigiri, sashimi and maki “rolls.” Ingredient combinations are fairly mainstream, incorporating tuna, salmon, yellowtail, eel, shrimp and all the flourishes for California, Philadelphia, “sunshine,” “volcano,” “spider” and other rolls, priced from $7 to $18. Two-piece nigiri ranges from $5 to $8, three-piece sashimi runs from $6 to $10.

Choosy about my seafood sources, I advocated for Sawaddee’s Thai specialities over sushi. For diners who prefer cooked Japanese fare, the restaurant prepares teppanyaki — chicken, beef, shrimp and salmon — with fried rice and mixed vegetables for $16 to $18. Straightforward grilled salmon with mango salsa and chile-lime dressing ($18) also caught my partner’s eye.

If the summer heat hadn’t sapped my enthusiasm for soup, I would have selected the Indonesian “soto ayam” ($15), described as an authentic chicken soup with bean sprouts, cabbage, scallions, cilantro and half a hard-boiled egg served with lime and sambal. Its soupy counterparts are Thai “tom yum” and “tom kha,,” each served with rice or noodles.

Noodles regularly rank among my top picks, and Singapore noodles ($16) — often called “chow mai” — are a favorite for their curry powder seasoning. Doubling up on curry, my partner and I debated red, green and yellow ($15 apiece).

He didn’t care for the red curry’s eggplant; I wanted more substance than the green’s bamboo shoots. So we settled for yellow curry with potatoes, carrots and onions, requesting it with chicken. That left tofu for the noodle dish.

From a fairly pedestrian appetizer selection, I was challenged to resist the crab Rangoon ($8) in favor of something less common. Spicy tuna dumplings ($10) were the only unfamiliar item among potstickers, spring rolls, crispy tofu, jalapeno poppers and salt and pepper calamari (from $8 to $12).

Awaiting its state license to serve alcohol, Sawaddee had few beverage options, but the fountain sodas did come with free refills. My partner dispensed Dr. Pepper and offered me a sip. Fortunately, each table received a complimentary carafe of chilled water steeped with cucumber.

We’d arrived at the end of a dinner rush and flurry of takeout orders. As the staff caught its breath, we appreciated the few purposeful adornments in Sawaddee’s updated decor. Clean, light and bright, the interior is both casual and inviting.

Plates are similarly plain, affording their ungarnished, essential elements. A dish of sweet coconut-chile sauce accompanied the portion of four dumplings, hand-formed that day, our server said.

Maybe it was the fault of thicker dough around the filling, but the dumplings wanted more time in the deep fryer. And although I enjoy spicy tuna mixture in sushi rolls, I could detect only the faintest heat in this format. Next time I’d sate my chile craving with jalapeno poppers.

We weren’t expecting either the curry or noodles to contain much in the way of spice. But that didn’t mean they were short on flavor.

Lemongrass in the yellow curry perked up my palate upon the first bite. The aromatic stood in delicious contrast to the bland canvas of potatoes and carrots, the latter a bit too al dente for my taste.

The chicken, however, was tender and savory, in just the right proportion to vegetables and curry sauce — pure Thai comfort food, our server said. We did wish for more steamed rice, given that we were sharing the dish, but rather than ask, we decided to steam fresh rice later at home with the curry leftovers.

The noodles didn’t stand a chance of making it beyond our table. Ordinary in appearance, their texture was sublime — light and fluffy with the perfect rice vermicelli chew.

The dish’s tofu and egg each mirrored the other’s tenderness while bean sprouts and scallions lent crunch. Noting the curry powder seasoning was on the conservative side, I relished the prevailing flavor of fried garlic.

I so appreciated the cook’s way with garlic that I’d be tempted toward the garlic bok choy. A late-summer visit, however, would warrant seasonally fresh, stir-fried eggplant with house spicy brown sauce, as well as basil-sauced stir-fried chicken.

To cleanse the palate, coconut panna cotta ($7) was the obvious choice over fried bananas or cheesecake. Although the dessert’s sauce tasted artificially of strawberry, my partner and I still ooohed and ahhhed over its delicate creaminess and mild sweetness, the perfect conclusion to a summer supper.

Located at 1634 Ashland St., Sawaddee is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday through Sunday. See sawaddeeasiancuisine.com. Order online or call 541-708-0453.

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