November 28th, 2011 | WEEKEND

REVIEW: Jeera Thai: good food, needs elbow room

Jeera Thai might take a long time to get you your Pad Thai, but it will probably be worth it, this reviewer says.
Jeera Thai might take a long time to get you your Pad Thai, but it will probably be worth it, this reviewer says. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

For some inexplicable reason, a pilgrimage to Thai Taste has become an essential part of the tour Elis give friends visiting Yale. It’s like, “this is the art gallery, that’s the weird orange/paprika library where types cooler than me hang out, and, er, here’s some Thai food.” It’s also a go-to for birthdays of the hastily planned sort and those awkward in-between dates where you’re not sure if you want to be seen in public (i.e. Blue State) with each other yet. The venerable subterranean restaurant has become ingrained in the Yale psyche in ways student-targeting entrepreneurs can only dream of. It’s precisely this institutional quality which makes the arrival of a new Thai place an event of cataclysmic proportions. What’s the deal with this new Jeera Thai challenger? WEEKEND braved Crown Street to find out. (Head’s up: difficult as it is to tear yourself away, you need to walk past that ‘Queen of the Night’ club).

One walks into Jeera Thai, looks around and sees that, well, there’s not a lot more space to move around in. This is not a location for friends to meet up, as I learned soon enough, once they told me it was full and I had to cancel with the 3 people I was meant to eat with (yeah, I got franz). The actual venue only features 4 seats – and they’re all barstools. Jeera Thai is clearly one of those small businesses we’re all supposed to love, encourage and support, or whatever. My recommended solution is to do just that by ordering off the take-out menu, so that you get your fill of the quaint atmosphere, friendly staff and authentic feel while having enough space to eat in a manner that doesn’t seem look like a performance art piece called “Restricted 1.4.”

So, rendered #foreveralone by Jeera’s physical limitations, I ordered and just kind of hoped for the best. An extended waiting period and being informed that they just didn’t have the ingredients for the curry I wanted left me less than inclined to like their fare. As I awkwardly waited in my Davenport common room — considering that my other options for waiting spots were Elevate, some rando Crown Street club and Chameleon (love you and your head massages, never change) — I found myself questioning whether the ‘Thai Healthy Kitchen’ was worth the 50 minutes that I could have spent reading about welfare states/watching South Park.

The food didn’t quite answer the question, but it helped. My appetizer, the Roti Canai, was something I’d never tried before: a Thai style crepe. Thin but still fluffy, the crepe made for a filling and rich appetizer, especially with the spicy curry dipping sauce that came with it. Jeera Thai is not shy about its portions – I shared the crepe with a suitemate and still felt quite full after. If you’re looking for a midday snack and are anywhere near Crown, the Roti Canai might be just the thing. Props for inventiveness, Jeera.

My entrée, a Mussamun curry with potato, onion, peanuts and shrimp (you can get it with tofu, but then I’m really going to question your legitimacy as a human being), was pretty standard. It had a kick to it that made eating more not an option as much as a necessity. Meanwhile, the potatoes and shrimp added solidity, with the rich flavors sinking in together and seasoning them in just the right way. I was, I’ll be honest, quite pleased. However, it was by this point that Jeera’s portion sizes began to overwhelm me. Perhaps the main dishes should be re-classified as appropriate for two people; they’re certainly too much for one.

Jeera’s food is just as good as Thai Taste’s and, if you’re organic and such, probably even better. Its small scale is a bit of a downer, but it does give its cuisine a quality that’s superior to the mass-produced offerings at Thai Pan Asian. Grab a takeout menu, try to remember it when you’re starved. But Jeera is not going to be on the list of New Haven’s top dining venues anytime soon, so keep them tourists walking down Chapel and into Thai Taste’s warm, loving bosom.