When asked what New Haven lacks, the last thing I would answer would be Thai restaurants. What with Bangkok Gardens, Thai Taste, Pad Thai and more dominating Chapel Street, “Little Thailand” seems an appropriate epithet. The people behind Jasmine Sweet Rice, a new restaurant on 47 Whalley Avenue, are asking us to make room for another.
Not being one to resist a challenge, I made my way to “Jasmine” on Monday. Approaching the restaurant, right past Popeye’s and the African hair braiding salon in an area certainly less bustling than Chapel, a random man opened the door for me. He claimed he was the “greeter” and asked for a $1.00 entrance fee. I believed this as much as I believe the Flower Lady when she asks for money to stay in the shelter. But in any case, upon actually entering I was greeted with enthusiasm by the only waiter, who sprinted out of the kitchen as the cooks looked towards the door in surprise. The room was entirely empty and would remain so for the duration of my multi-course meal.
The appetizers are hit or miss. You’ll find your standards like spring rolls, chicken satay and crab rangoons, which are, well, standard bordering on sub-. The satay chicken isn’t properly charred, and the spring rolls are underseasoned, though I happily devoured both of them. But what Jasmine Sweet Rice is lacking in the basics, it makes up for in creativity, with appetizers like Jook vegetables and golden puffs. The Jook vegetables, packed inside little green spinach dumplings, are elegant pre-dinner bites. The golden puffs, almost like little Thai samosas, are filled with a sweet mixture of cubed potatoes and shredded chicken and are accompanied with a tangy sauce.
The salads are the perfect start to your meal. The papaya salad, made up of chopped green papaya, Thai herbs and fish sauce, is refreshing and crispy, though perhaps a little too heavy on the sweet dressing. As is the yum sam krop, a cool, green salad topped with pieces of fried squid and shrimp. Both dishes play with texture and bright flavors in a delightfully new way
The noodle dishes, however, are slightly underwhelming. The pad thai is overly sweet and lacking in complexity — really, I could have just got boxed pad thai from the supermarket. But the huge portion made the $8.50 dish of noodles a great value, one that could probably feed a family of four — or me. The Thai fried rice is a pleasure, if slightly generic, and is lightly sweetened and delicately seasoned with fish sauce.
But for the real triumph of “Jasmine,” look no further than the honey duck, priced at $14.00. It has all the qualities you could ever want in a duck — it is sweet, crispy, charred and tender. The extremely generous portion of meat is served alongside sautéed spinach and asparagus.
The service is very attentive, even though the kitchen is slow. As I waited for my food, the waiter brought me Thai tourism magazines to read and filled up my water after every sip. His over-eagerness was endearing, yet depressing in the context of the restaurant’s emptiness.
The real question is whether Jasmine Sweet Rice merits the journey. I’m going to say yes — and not just because I feel sorry for them (well, only partly because I feel sorry for them).
Mis-steps aside, their food shows promise, and the varied and reasonable menu make this a great spot for students and locals alike. All Yale students get a 10 per cent discount and VIP treatment — not because they’re so fabulous, but because they’ll probably be the only people in the restaurant.
Remember to check out the lunch time deals, which run two dollars less than dinner entrees.