The good news is that there are still a few outposts, like Banyan Tree in Petaluma, that haven’t peanut-sauced themselves into a corner. Here, they’re offering up creative, even innovative takes on Thai cooking that go well beyond spring rolls and tom yum soup. Proof positive that staking out your local mini-mall can sometimes turn up some gems.
Stepping into the restaurant, you’re immediately transported from the tacky, 70s-esque Golden Eagle shopping center to a cool, minimalist environment bathed in blues and browns, with glowing sconces and sheer curtains dividing the space. Quiet, restful, distinct.
But the food is what you’re here for: A large but well-executed menu of Thai (and Thai-Californian) entrees that sound as good as they actually are. Like the Fisherman’s Garden Rolls: “Delicate rice paper rolled around green leaves, cucumbers, carrots, avocado, mint, crab meat and shrimp, served chilled with peanut sauce.” Um, yes, please. Or, the delicate finger-sized spring rolls and cream-cheese and chive filled won-tons that very literally melt in the mouth. Or the Chiangmai Noodles, with curried egg noodles, chicken, spring onions, shallots and little bites of vinegary pickles (beats the pants off Pad Thai).
So, are we gushing a bit? Okay, maybe. But after suffering through a whole lot of really bad Thai food lately, it’s refreshing to find such exotic beauty in such an unexpectedly mundane spot.
Best bets: Be sure to try several appetizers, which range from fresh spring rolls to curry puffs, ‘Thailand poppers’ (fresh leaves topped with a variety of Thai ingredients), stay and fish cakes. The Chiangmai noodles are a great lunch choice “most lunch specials come with an appetizer, rice and soup for around $8.
Banyan Tree, 20 E. Washington St., Golden Eagle Center, Petaluma, 707.778.8669
Lunch M-Sat, 11:30 to 3pm, Dinner Monday through Sunday. Open until 10pm, Friday night.