I admit it; I am intrigued by Asian cuisine. Right now, my Asian spice favorite is currently available from the fine folks at Johnson City’s Tomy Thai. Originally a Kingsport restaurant that’s come south to find more fertile ground, Tomy Thai does a wide range of southern and southeast Asian dishes.
I was fortunate that the dine-around bunch shared my enthusiasm, and decided to join me at Tomy Thai for our evening meal late last week. My dining partner decided on a chef special, the Volcano Chicken ($13.99).
Our Retiree was detained at a meeting, but phoned ahead to have my dining partner order a light meal featuring a House Salad ($3) and the Chicken Satay appetizer ($5.99).
Our Dieter ordered the Chicken Satay and the lunch portion of the Spicy Shrimp Salad ($8.99). The Carnivore ordered the Drunken Noodles and Calamari ($12.99) extra spicy. I settled for a simple bowl of Tomy Thai’s Pho with shrimp ($10.99), and the Vegetable Rolls ($3.99) as a starter.
Our appetizer and salad course went well, with the Chicken Satay winning out over the Vegetable Rolls. One word of advice: red vinegar salad dressing is just that: red vinegar and nothing else. It is light, astringent, and works well with Thai cuisine.
As for our entrees, they were well worth the wait. Our Dieter’s Spicy Shrimp Salad’s flavor bouquet included both mint and lemongrass, which made an interesting counterpoint to the cilantro and scallions. The shrimp were prepared well, having been previously marinated in lime juice and crushed black pepper, and our Dieter ate all of them along with the rest of the dish.
The Carnivore’s Drunken Noodles were a novelty to me; pan-fried noodles mixed with egg, bean sprouts, peanuts and other assorted vegetables, all done up in an excellent pepper-based Thai sauce with spice heat of such intensity and duration that one forkful in my mouth required two chewed up lemon slices and a whole glass of tea to put out the fire. The Carnivore’s cast-iron innards rendered him nearly impervious to the heat; a slight moistening of his brow the only sign, that and a smile as I sluiced down my second glass of tea and hollered for more.
The Retiree enjoyed her Chicken Satay, having asked for the mildest sauce heat setting possible. My dining partner’s Volcano Chicken was a feast for the senses; the golden-battered chicken quick-fried in very hot oil, then tossed with assorted vegetables in a savory Thai sauce with enough residual heat to be quite pleasant.
While the rest of the bunch were tilting at dragons, I finally scoured the last of the Drunken Noodles from my palate, and turned my attention to my Pho with shrimp. One of my guiding principles is that “Simple is Better.” Simply put, Pho (pronounce the “O” like the “U” in the word “but”) is a bowl of soup broth with various spices and seasonings, along with a good quantity of noodles mixed in for sustenance.
The genius of this dish is that you, as a diner, can instantly tell the expertise level of the kitchen that prepared it. Proper Pho means a broth composed of scratch-made stock, usually chicken, that has been lovingly spiced, stirred and simmered over a long period of time. The amount of the time (the longer the better) devoted to this enterprise can be determined by your taste buds, and will tell you with unassailable veracity whether the chef and his minions know what they are doing back there with the pots and pans. The shrimp and noodles are prepared separately and then added to the dish just before presentation, so that the noodles will not be flaccid, nor the shrimp rubbery.
My Pho was presented to me in a soup bowl of such surpassing beauty that I took a few moments to contemplate bowl, soup, shrimp and all as a still life. My first taste confirmed that Tomy Thai’s chefs were on the ball that evening, and I turned to with a will.
Dining with refinement on a bowl of Pho is an impossibility. Fork and soup spoon are worse than useless as utensils. Just imitate your Asian friends; put your face near the bowl with your chopsticks at the ready and have at it. The process will involve a lot of slurps on your part. And don’t be foolish and try to finish the broth spoonful by spoonful; it’ll go cold that way. No, just pick up the bowl, as I did, and slurp up all the goodness you can.
Tomy Thai’s got great lunch specials starting at $6.99, a serviceable bar and a drive-up window for take-out. If you stop by, don’t be put off by a flock of cars in the front parking lot; there’s plenty of parking space around back.
Anybody know how to get Pho stains out of a good dress shirt?
1730 State of Franklin Road, Suite 7D
Mon-Thu: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Sat: Noon-9:30 p.m.
Sun: Noon-9 p.m.
Credit cards welcome