Representative Dish: Nam salads and spicy udon noodles
Address: 103 S. Main St., Summerville
Bar: Beer and wine only
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner 3-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner 3-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; dinner noon-9 p.m. Sunday
Costs: Appetizers $4.95-$6.95; soups $7.95-$8.95; salads $7.95-$10.95; noodles and rice dishes $11.95; curries $11.95; entrees $11.95; house specialties $14.95-$20.95; desserts $5.50
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: Carry-out; limited wine and beer selections; hours differ from James Island location, so be aware; online promotions by registering on their website.
Pick Thai jumped the zip code and opened their second location in Summerville this summer in the downtown space that once housed the Sweetwater Grill and Cafe.
The restaurant was given a minimal facelift: fresh paint and a few Thai tchotchkes, with the requisite spirit house looks down from on high, perched above the host's station.
Unlike the James Island property, no artful carvings of melons, soap or fruit, the kai sa luks of Thailand, grace the tables or furnishings.
Six chairs are gathered at a counter that provides storage and work space for the kitchen staff. A dozen tables fill the small room, and the space feels right-sized for Pick Thai.
At the times of our visit, we had a friendly and attentive server; but quite frankly, the restaurant had so few patrons it was difficult to measure her skills up against a full dining room.
The menu is Americanized Thai. Some of the dishes drift into sweetness and the regional classics that bring such vigor to eating Thai food are among the missing. There are no mangosteens, no fermented rice, no khao mun gai.
Appetizers are predominantly fried, with only the fresh and chilled spring roll and skewered chicken satay avoiding the fryer basket. And the kitchen was out of an interesting sounding appetizer: a pastry filled with a curry of chicken, potatoes and onion served with a cucumber relish. That seemed like a perfect companion to any of the soups that are generous portions that easily serve two.
Tom yum koong, Thailand's answer to hot and sour soup, is sparked by chili and balanced in its flavors.
Tom kha kai, the coconut milk soup made with galangal, lemongrass and cilantro, had the aromatics strained from the broth and a generous quantity of chicken and button mushrooms floated in the sweet nectar of coconut. The mushrooms could benefit from a simple saute before being added to the soup, as their time in the broth was insufficient to soften them and allow mushroom's natural MSG to uplift the nuanced flavors of this soup.
Salads are the stars at Pick Thai and though we were hoping for a green papaya option, the larbs and nams were quintessential in honoring the culinary chords of salty, sweet, sour and heat.
It is believed that larbs, salads of cooked ground meats and toasted rice powder, had their origin in beef tartar. You can't go wrong with any of the simply grilled meats or ground chicken compositions. They are served on romaine rather than iceberg lettuce so the flavor and texture profiles are improved by the simple selection of a flavorful green. The dressing is the classic lime-chili-fish sauce combination and its clean and bright flavors marry the meats and greens with balanced tones of acid and umami. The only flaw is saturation; less is more when it comes to salad dressing.
All of the rice, noodle and curry dishes allow you to add chicken, beef, pork or tofu; shrimp has a $2 up-charge. Portions are generous and served in deep "bowl-plates" that provide a wonderful reservoir for the juices and sauces.
Curries of red and green are swathed in chilies and are marked medium spicy on the "chili Richter" scale. The heat is pleasurable and fades quickly. Although the panang curry of the South is marked as medium spicy, its base of peanuts and shrimp paste tempers the heat of the firepower of the chilies and renders this dish mellow.
All of the dishes can easily be adjusted to your preference, and with a table caddy of nam prik (chili paste relish) and prik (dried chili flakes), you can easily raise the spice quotient to taste.
The house specialties are the more expensive items on the menu, where most entrees are priced under $12.
Spicy udon noodles tangle toothsome wheat-based noodles with chicken, shrimp, eggs and a spicy Thai basil sauce. The noodles, Japanese in origin, are believed to have traveled with Buddhist monks and are found in many countries where the monks settled. This stalwart dish is substantial in both portion size and satisfiers and shares well.
Japanese eggplant replaces the round Thai variety of this member of the nightshade family in stir-fries at Pick Thai. The trifecta of red and green bell peppers along with onion strips is fresh and crisp but repetitive in many of the dishes.
In this respect, the use of fresh vegetables, the restaurant rises above the ordinary but when it comes to the subtlety of flavors and intricate regional vibrancy of Thai cookery, Pick Thai falls short.
As a menu for farangs (Westerners), it has succeeded.
Lunch is a real value with most dishes priced at $7.95. That would be the ideal manner to introduce your palate to the foods of Thailand.
Desserts are the calming balm to spice and feature Thai tea ice cream, a seasonal mango with sticky rice and Thai custard with sweet rice. All are the perfect salve to dishes sparked by chili amplified sweetness to temper heat.
The short list of wines in not conducive to Thai foods and your best bet is a cold Singha lager beer or iced Thai tea or coffee.
Pick Thai is a resolutely plain box of a restaurant, but the foods of Thailand are anything but; the kitchen at Pick Thai can easily explore their complexity and vibrancy.