At the Khom Loi Thai pop-up in Sebastopol, there’s nothing shy or demure about the spicy, sweet, sour flavors of East Asia on the plate. The fire in my face, complete with watering eyes and running nose, makes that abundantly clear.
Ramen Gaijin owners Matthew Williams and Moishe Hahn-Shuman — who started their own ramen shop as a pop-up several years ago at Woodfour Brewing—are hosting a handful of summer dinners inspired by travels in Northern Thailand and Laos. The food focuses on Chiang Mai and nearby Laos, with nods to Central and Southern Thailand.
At the first seating of the first dinner, and all cylinders were firing fast for the 50-plus diners eager to see just how the Gaijin team would interpret yellow curry and green papaya salad. Packed to capacity on a warm summer night, the restaurant temps were already feeling a little bit Bangkokish. But a brisk house made Thai Iced Tea and cocktail king Scott Beattie’s Tiger Uppercut (house coconut fat washed rum, lime, coconut milk, raw ginger, Thai herbs) loaded with ice in a handmade pottery cup was as welcome as a cold shower.
The first Khom Loi menu included tiny bamboo baskets of sticky rice (khao niaw, $3), and cold green papaya salad with braised octopus (som tam plahmuk, $13) that made us remember why we love this grated mixture of sour papaya, beans, cherry tomatoes, dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime and not-fooling-around chiles. Best. Ever.
We also couldn’t get enough of the charcoal grilled mushroom salad (het paa nom tok, $12) with a punch of mint and fish sauce, lemongrass and toasted rice powder. As an entree, the standout was Chiang Mai style yellow curry (khoa soi gai, $14) that’s a soothing, creamy foil to the heat of spicier dishes. With slippery noodles, coconut milk, chicken and chili sauce you’ll be lapping at the bottom of the bowl within minutes.
Also on the menu: A savory Thai omelette with ground pork and bean sprouts (kai jeow muu, $13); spicy Northern Thai rabbit and pork sausage with Kabocha squash and Thai basil (sai oua kratay, $15) TFC Thai Fried Chicken (gai tod chiang mai, $13) are extra, extra crispy, sweet fried chicken wings; whole fried rockfish with chiles, (plaa thawt lat phrik, $mp) is a whole-table pleaser; along with spiced braised pork shank with Ovaltine (it’s a thing in Thailand) and boiled egg (khao kha muu, $15). Future dinners will have additional offerings.
The idea is that Khom Loi could you know, maybe become a new restaurant. Maybe. With additional Chokh Dee libations like the “Low Hanging Fruit” with arrete reposado, mango, lemongrass, tamarind and coriander; or the “Same-Same-But-Different” (Square One cucumber vodka, Blade gin, cucumber, lemon, ginger beer, raw ginger and Thai basil), we’re seriously hoping it does.
Upcoming dinners are slated for July 10 and 17, and a few of the dishes and drinks will be served at the bar. Reservations will sell out, so go to ramengaijin.com or call 707) 827-3609 for details.