Clams. Photos courtesy of wavejourney.com.
Tired of snow, ice and, yes, comfort food, my three friends and I took a trip to Northern Thailand in downtown Bend for a complete change of pace.
At Wild Rose, a casual, friendly restaurant on NW Oregon Avenue, we started with some of the best cocktails I’ve had in a long time. I loved the gin gimlet with cucumber and Thai Chili. I revisited that perfect blend of lime and heat again and again during what would prove to be a memorable meal.
We started with Yum Khao Tod—crispy crumbled rice croquettes mixed with shallots, chili, peanuts, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and onion in a spicy, tart lime dressing. “Do you want to add fermented pork?” asked Rosie Itti, who co-owns the restaurant with her family and manages it with her boyfriend Tyler. What a great move! The naem (fermented pork sausage) adds a hint of sourness that makes this appetizer downright addictive.
We ordered two other starters that, along with the Yum Khao Tod, created the perfect taste trilogy. The tangy shredded green papaya salad with lime, dried shrimp and fresh chili was as good as it always is. And the huge deep-fried chicken wings in a slightly sweet and salty fish-sauce marinade were so delicious that I may never bother with Buffalo wings again.
For our next round, we decided to try the Tom Sapp soup rather than the more familiar coconut milk Tom Kha. Made from a vegan base of lime juice, basil, Thai herbs, dried spices (which Rosie’s parents bring back from Thailand several times a year), cilantro, lemongrass, galangal and kaffir leaves to which meat is then added (or not), this spicy, tart, brothy soup is out of this world. “It feels like Grandma made it for you because she loves you and cares about you,” my friend Jill said. “And it’s delicious.”
We also ordered the clams which are steamed until just tender and then stir fried in a slightly sweet/hot turmeric curry sauce that the restaurant could sell by the pint.
We had deliberately chosen not to order all our dishes at once in order to appreciate the wide array of tart, sweet, hot, spicy and downright exotic tastes that each had to offer. Luckily that meant we could indulge in a third round. The house favorite Khao Soi curry was less heavy than most coconut milk curries and offered a lovely play on textures since crispy noodles top the egg noodles and meat or tofu. Viv, a monster curry fan, couldn’t have been happier.
The Holy Eggplant did it for me. Made with real Thai basil, known as holy basil, this special features sliced Japanese eggplant stir fried with ground pork, peppers and chili paste served over steamed rice and topped with a perfectly fried egg. The Thai basil imparts a peppery, and almost minty quality to the dish, which offers the perfect blend of saltiness (think fish sauce) and heat. If pressed to name my favorite dish of the evening, this would have to be it.
Wild Rose’s food differs from the other Thai fare you find in town not only because of its Northern Thai cuisine, but because it features the recipes of the family that owns and runs the restaurant. As Rosie says, “Coming here is like coming to our house and sharing a meal with us.”
150 NW Oregon Ave, Bend
Hours: Sunday–Thursday 11am–9pm
Friday–Saturday 11am– 10pm.