by LINDEN GROSS, One Stop Writing Shop / Oregon.LocalGetaways.com
Wild Rose doesn’t serve your typical Thai food. For starters, its rural Northern Thai cuisine is based on family recipes served with khaoniew—sticky Jasmine rice meant to be eaten with your hands. Wild Rose chef and co-owner Paul Itti suggests that you form the sticky rice into small balls and then dip it into the fresh chili pastes and sauces.
This is not the place where you’re going to find Pad Thai or even chopsticks for that matter. You will discover hearty, aromatic fare accompanied by fresh, crunchy vegetables and designed to be shared.
We start our meal in the colorful and decidedly casual restaurant with Yum KhaoTod—crispy rice croquettes, shallots, chili, peanuts, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and onion tossed in a zesty lime dressing with a mild kick and a hint of cilantro. The crunchy rice balls are just this side of addictive with dueling textures and a perfect blend of sweet and salt.
We move on to Neau Yang—marinated and grilled bone-in beef short ribs. Unlike spareribs, these have plenty of meat to sink your teeth into, which is a great thing since they’re downright delicious.
Next we try two versions of the same papaya salad—one featuring raw shredded green papaya dressed with lime and fresh chili, the other a deep fried version of the same. I would have never known the two appetizers contained the same ingredients. The fresh papaya salad has a ton of flavor and complexity, with spice that starts at your lips and moves back to your throat.
“I love this salad. I’m a big fan,” says my friend Leah as she helps herself to seconds. The fried rendition isn’t nearly as tangy or nuanced, but the crispy texture is fun and the whole thing is delicious especially toward the bottom once it has soaked up the sauce.
My tablemates agree that we have to try Grandfather’s Tom Kha, a soup made with coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, straw mushrooms, cilantro and either chicken or tofu. It’s lovely as always, prompting Leah to announce that it’s the best she’s ever had.
We kick off our entrees with a Nam Prik Flight of traditional chili pastes perfect for sticky rice dunking. Much to our surprise, of the three—Nam Prik Ong (ground pork in red curry and chili), Nam Prik Moo Sub (ground pork and roasted green chili) and Tum Makeuah (roasted green chili blended with grilled eggplant)—we like the garlic-infused vegetarian version the best. That preference even holds true for my friend Dave who admits that he’s “not an eggplant guy.”
Urged by our server to go for the house favorite, we opt for the traditional KhaoSoi Curry. The egg noodles in a somewhat sweet coconut curry broth leaves three of the four of us less than impressed, although additions from the spice traydo help. We’re happier with the Kow Pad PohngGari which features a super fresh seafood assortment including prawns, calamari scallops and cod in a yellow curry sauce.
Personally, I regret not having ordered my favorite Avocado with Prawns special that’s almost always listed on the over-sized blackboard to the left of the full-service bar, and again make use of the spice platter. My brother, however, loves the seafood stir-fry. “I’ve been to some great Thai restaurants,” he says. “This dish would be at home in any of them.”
Our last two dishes absolutely wow me. The lighter Kow Pad Boo—stir-fried jasmine rice with Dungeness crab meat—features an astonishing depth of flavor accented by a hint of grilled char. I’d order that dish again in a second. Ditto for the hot pot mussels, which my Dad had urged us to have and which we almost forget. They arrive steaming in a homemade curry paste heavily accented with ginger. “You could serve this sauce on anything including oatmeal,” announces my brother. My friend Leah, who had announced that she was too full to even sample one, finds room for a mussel along with several rice balls dumped in the sauce. It’s that good.
150 NW Oregon Ave, Bend
Owners: Paul & Ampawan Itti
Sunday – Thursday – 11am–9pm
Friday – Saturday – 11am–10pm