Oishii means delicious
An appropriate name for Pasadena’s new Thai-Japanese restaurant
By Erica Wayne 01/06/2011
There’s been a Thai restaurant at the front of the Holiday Inn Express complex on East Colorado Boulevard for the past two decades. Now (as of three months ago), there’s still a Thai restaurant, but one that has reached out to Japan for about a third of its menu and for its name as well. The full title is Oishii (which means delicious) Thai-Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar and Grill.
There are a small number of dual-cuisine (as opposed to fusion) restaurants in Pasadena: Tibet-Nepal House and Fuji (Japanese-Korean) come to mind. Both make perfect sense since the countries are near neighbors. But I don’t know of any other local Thai restaurant that’s paired its menu with tempura, sushi, teppanyaki and the like. When the waitress came over, we asked for an explanation. “It’s about 60 percent, 40 percent,” she confided. “The owner’s Thai, but she’s had experience with Japanese restaurants.”
It was a frosty night (by Southern California standards), so the first thing we ordered was a flaming cauldron of Tom Kah ($8.95). The coconut soup, which came quickly, was steaming hot (a lot hotter than the pot of green tea we also requested), with adequate chili to ward off the cold, plus plenty of fat mushrooms, sliced chicken and quartered tomatoes. Lovely.
Moving to the Japanese side of the menu, we decided to try tuna and yellowtail sushi (each $4 for two pieces); a California roll ($4.50) and a shrimp tempura roll ($5.50). We also ordered several other Thai items – a “fresh roll” appetizer ($4.50), larb ($7.95) from the salad section, chicken panang ($7.95) from Oishii’s curries and pork cooked in spicy chili with basil leaves ($7.95) listed under a section titled Oishii’s Thai Dishes.
Our server tried not to look surprised at the huge order. (We told her we’d be taking most of it home for the next night’s dinner.) Then she posed what is fast becoming a standard question in Thai restaurants. “How hot would you like it — one to 10?” We never know what to say. Usually we inquire if the questioner likes spicy food and, answer being in the affirmative, ask what number he or she would recommend.
The answer is, almost inevitably, seven (which number probably corresponds to the number of teaspoons of dried chili the chef dumps into the dish before it comes to the table). I’d give a lot to find a Thai place that, like most Szechwan eateries, simply cooks each dish the way the chef would make it for native eaters and leaves us out of the equation. Honestly, if we didn’t like hot food, we wouldn’t be ordering asterisked items or dishes that have the word “spicy” in the title.
At any rate, seven it was; and seven did provide enough red speckles to demonstrate that the food underneath would, at least, not suffer from blandness. The larb was a bit salty, but well seasoned otherwise with lime, onion, mint and chili. The aftertaste provided a slow, subtle burn in the back of my throat.
Ditto for the panang (a yellow curry with a bit of coconut milk, green and red peppers, onions and — surprise — young green beans). And for the pork dish, again with brightly colored peppers and onion, but this time with frizzled basil leaves and stir-fried rather than simmered. Individual bowls of rice came with the entrees and, while they weren’t essential to dumb down the heat, they did mop up our gravies quite nicely.
I loved the fresh rolls, made up of lettuce, cucumber, scallion and pad-Thai type rice noodles, all cradled in rice paper. The sauce they came with was mainly peanut butter, probably thinned with a little soy and/or chili oil. Their title aptly describes the bright crunch of the filling — and the peanut sauce is one of the best I’ve had in Pasadena Thai restaurants.
We probably confused the staff by ordering so many things from different sides of the menu. At any rate, presentation of the soup was almost immediately followed by the tuna and yellowtail — basic, without adornment of fish or platter. Then most of the hot Thai dishes arrived along with the California roll, again quite basic, but good. Finally, with the fresh rolls (which, I admit, was an add-on) came the pretty shrimp tempura roll, tail held high.
Oishii’s sushi chef is certainly competent. In addition to the pedestrian stuff, we were presented with a list of tempting specialty rolls. The menu, amply illustrated with color photos, features a portrait of a VERY impressive caterpillar roll along with some personalized creations such as the “Cindy,” “Scott” and “B.J.” rolls (take a look on-line). A full range of hot dishes including sukiyaki ($10-$12), nabeyaki ($12) and teriyaki ($9.50-$11.50) are available as well.
Oishii was nearly empty the evening we tried it (in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Eve). But it looks as if it could hold a crowd with comfort. The entire L-shaped interior is lined with cozy mauve-upholstered booths (probably left over from the prior inhabitant). In stark contrast are the acid-green walls in the sushi bar area (which match the chartreuse menus) and the cute red and black jackets the servers wear.
Almost sated and having packed up most of the edibles for next-day dining, we finished by sharing a single mochi ice cream ($3). Although the menu advertised coffee, chocolate and mango as well, our server offered only strawberry, vanilla or green tea. I don’t know why I picked strawberry — as soon as my husband tasted it, he pronounced it “bubble-gum.” Next time, it’s definitely green tea – oishii!