A call from a friend took me completely by surprise – he invited me out for dinner to celebrate his birthday (age withheld here). Shouldn’t it be the other way round, which is the customary practice? But he explained that he is trying out my yearly practice of doing something for others on my birthday, which entails me spending a week cooking and inviting my friends over, or by hosting the party in a reserved section in my friend’s restaurant, Cafe Asia (see 2 blogs back). He added that he wanted to show his gratitude for our friendship that has lasted 20 years since our first meeting in Grad School (has it been that long?).
As the day progressed, we could not firm up our decision to where we would meet for “the meal”. Upon the 11th hour, I suggested that we could try one of my favorite vegetarian haunts up the road from his place. Being the die-hard carnivore that he is, he quickly shot it down and suggested a place in the newly built Rockville Town Center. This development is a confluence of shops and restaurants that cater to the rather affluent population in this part of Montgomery County, MD. He suggested that we visit Thai Pavilion which he has been a few times, and since it was his birthday, I did not offer any resistance.
The restaurant is located at the intersection of two walking boulevards and one would immediately notice its happenings through the large department-store-like windows flanking this corner. Upon stepping in, you realize that this place attempts to create a modern and rather casual feel, obviously an attempt to cater to the younger and those with deeper pockets. The guitarist strumming and crooning away in the background sounded more like Hard Rock Cafe Bangkok with the selection of familiar but over-played classics. But it was barely grinding on my nerves since not a bare soul paid him any mind, me included.
Well, right to the food (do I hear some singing in the background?). For the appetizers, my friend decided to try a couple of offerings that are not your usual Thai fare. The Spring Rolls here are not the typical vegetarian or chicken versions found is most places. Instead this restaurant’s rendition, a special, was stuffed with moist pieces of chopped shrimp, flaky bits of crab meat, cellophane noodles and mixed vegetables, all wrapped up with a thin crispy pastry. Obviously, the restaurant is making an effort to set themselves apart for the usual, which made for a good start to the meal.
As for me, I choose the Duck Pancakes which I have not seen in any Thai eatery. It is lightly battered roast duck that is sandwiched by a homemade pancake and seasoned with scallions and a slathering of the house duck sauce, obviously a take on the Chinese Peking Duck. The duck was still moist with a faint hint of 5-spice powder (not enough for me), sans crispy skin, but the pancakes were just a bit too thick for my taste and their gumminess made it quite a filling bite, which was not what I was trying to achieve. Nevertheless, a pretty good appetizer and an odd Thai offering.
As for the mains, my friend went for the familiar – Seafood Yellow Curry. Since he is a bit allergic to coconut milk, the dish was made with half-and-half. When his plate arrived, it was redolent with a myriad of seafood – plump mussels, huge shrimp, moist scallops, and tender squid. All the seafood was enveloped by a rather fragrant yellow curry sauce that was a bit lacking in the chili-heat department but did not overshadow the seafood sweetness. Crispy snow peas and carrots added the counter balance to its richness while providing more sweetness to the dish. This was indeed a seafood delight.
For my choice, I decided to go with a Thai seafood classic – Shrimp Clay Pot. The earthenware was filled with pieces of large plump shrimp, crispy sweet onions and sweet peppers, pungent scallions, gravy-soaked beanthread noodles, fresh woodsy shiitake mushrooms, all spiked by large julienned pieces of fresh ginger. Although it was lacking in the pepperiness that I had tasted in other versions and the crispiness from a heated clay pot (this one was not), the dish hit the spot for the quality ingredients and the good cooking coming out of the kitchen.
Well, I’m glad that my long time friend decided to be “generous” on his birthday and insisted that we ate at Thai Pavilion. The restaurant knows what it is doing with their twist on the traditional dishes and the finesse in the dishes that we sampled. It is definitely worth stopping by if you happen to be in the Rockville Town Center. Now if only I can pinpoint where that darn singing is coming from.