Re-elect our President!
President Thai has done better than other chief execs over the past 15 years
By Erica Wayne 03/15/2012
President Thai Restaurant, at the east end of San Pasqual on Rosemead Boulevard, used to be a hidden treasure. The dining room, which held just more than 40 people, was cute, with mirrored walls and pastel accents you couldn’t imagine from the nondescript exterior. And, judging from the crowds (it was full every time we ate there for more than 15 years), it did a lot better than other presidents I could name.
I used to worry about reviewing it. Devoted diners were miserable every time it got a little publicity, and I felt the same way. But my ambivalence vanished when they opened a branch — President Two, located kitty-corner from my favorite cut-rate movie house, The Regency Academy 6 — in 2003. Its menu was identical to its big sister’s, a fact that assumed much more significance when the original President Thai was razed the following year.
For what seemed an eternity, the Rosemead lot was a busy construction site. But when the new, improved and triple-the-size restaurant finally opened in 2005, it was a sight to behold. On opening day, they were so crowded that we were escorted to an enclosed patio with a charming fountain, lovely wooden lanterns and tropical plants to await a table.
Through the ornately carved windows, we could glimpse the beauty of the new interior with its intricate woodwork, coved ceilings, lush upholstered chairs, fresh linen and delicate dishware. Servers in native garb bustled around filling water glasses and delivering heaping platters of steaming food.
By the time we were seated, we had our order down pat; all the old favorites: chicken coconut soup, President’s Shrimp, panang, pad prik king and President’s Fried Rice. The first thing we noticed was a fairly hefty price increase. (Needless to say, lush upholstery and intricate woodwork does not come cheap.) The next thing we noticed was how long it took for our waitress to notice us. And when she finally came, we found no beer was available; it seems the owners had been forced to reapply for licensing.
Service that evening wasn’t quite as crisp as in the good ol’ days of the original unprepossessing President Thai. One harried waiter rushed up with our hotpot of soup, set it down and disappeared as I caught a whiff of unlit sterno. He came back with a lighter before we asphyxiated, then reappeared with two cups and a ladle. He left for a third time without ever having taken the lid off the pot.
But, given the inevitable problems in a new huge space with lots of untried employees to train, we had to admit that the food was just as good as usual — real, no-nonsense Thai. We didn’t have to bother mentioning that we like our food spicy; if it’s meant to be hot, that’s the way it comes. Prik king (a rich meat chili stir-fry with green beans — $9.95), for instance, deserves a full glass of water and some Kleenex as accompaniment.
Coconut soup with chicken ($11.95 for a pot that easily serves four), comes in many versions. President’s style used to be pretty basic, with woodsy bits of lemongrass and other herbs floating in a relatively thin, highly spiced broth. But, in keeping with the new elegance, the recipe appeared to have been refined. There was a new aristocratic creaminess and less “flotsam.” Like almost everything else, it’s way above average for the genre.
President’s Shrimp ($9.95), wrapped with bacon, rolled in noodles and deep-fried, are quite a taste treat and impressive to look at as well. The fried noodles expand around the skewered shrimp to create a sort of bird-nest effect. Basically mild, they’re served with a dipping sauce that spices them up considerably.
We crave President’s version of panang ($9.95), a peanut, coconut milk and red curry concoction that I always order with chicken. Another of our must-haves is President’s fried rice ($10.95). It’s spiked with chicken, aromatic Thai sausage, big chunks of pineapple and cooked dried pork. Gorging ourselves on all the old favorites in this swank new setting was a treat.
I have to confess that once the new restaurant was open, we abandoned the Colorado Boulevard satellite. It’s still in operation but no longer associated with its founder. However, there is another “little” sister President Thai the owners opened up in Rowland Heights a couple of years back with a nearly identical menu.
It’s been seven years since the rebuilding; we’re still delighted with President Thai and still have to wait for a table most evenings. Many of our celebratory occasions are spent at the restaurant which, in addition to the attractions of its cuisine, ambiance and moderate pricing (there have been only minor hikes since the opening), is only a five-minute ride from our home and has free (if a bit congested) parking.
As a matter of fact, our next visit is planned for this Saturday’s St. Paddy’s Day evening. With nary a sign of corned beef and cabbage on President Thai’s menu, we’ll be happy to make do with larb and pad thai and to toast the holiday with icy green bottles of Singha ($4.50) instead.