There is something remarkable about wok hay — the breath of the wok — when it comes to Asian cuisine: the hint of smoke, crispy bits mingling with softer noodles and vegetables, the unmistakable tang imparted by cooking in seasoned metal over a fire.
That’s why I’m pretty happy with the flavors of the newest entrant into the Thai game in Sonoma County, Charm Thai in Rohnert Park. Located across from Sonoma State University, it’s affordable enough for students, generous in its portions and has clean, bright flavors that aren’t completely dumbed down for American tastes.
A handful of dishes are standouts, and unique locally, including taro empanadas, kee mao (also known as drunken noodles) and chicken larb. Taro, a mildly sweet purple cousin of the potato, is an Asian staple; here it’s stuffed into fried pockets of dough and comes with a peanut-vinegar dipping sauce.
The kee mao is a mix of chewy rice noodles and vegetables, perfumed with basil and with a prickle of heat (here with jalapeños, which is slightly odd). There’s no alcohol in the noodles — the name is a reference to the need you’ll have for a drink after tasting the hot intensity typically associated with the dish. If you want that heat, ask them to turn it up from a two to a six. Larb salad, ground chicken served with lettuce leaves, is refreshing. The yellow curry is thick, creamy and packed with spices including turmeric, lemongrass and a touch of cumin.
The restaurant is an offshoot of Petaluma’s Lemongrass Thai, and I’ll note that I ordered the food through a delivery app. Some of the Yelp reviews have been pretty unflattering, but my experience was excellent. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
1710 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, 707-242-3016, charmkitch.com
El Torito Supermarket opens: The owners of Los Molcajetes, a bar and grill on Montecito Avenue in Santa Rosa, have opened a grocery store focused on Mexican and Latin American foods. The El Torito Supermarket is at 460 Mission Blvd., Santa Rosa.