Toomie’s Thai Cuisine has been a part of the downtown Bend dining scene since the mid-1990s — and that may be its biggest problem.
When Pantip “Toomie” Staver opened the restaurant with her late husband, George, a Thai restaurant was something of a curiosity. That is no longer the case.
Today, there’s plenty of competition in the category of Thai dining in Central Oregon: Typhoon!, Angel Thai, Thai Thai, A Taste of Thailand and Thai O, not to mention individual Thai curries and various dishes offered by fusion restaurants and mobile kitchens.
Toomie’s continues to serve a menu that is much the same as it was a decade ago. Its extensive lunch menu — more than three dozen, generous one-plate dishes priced at $6.50 and $6.95 — offers one of the region’s best bargains for ethnic cuisine.
But its dinner plates are overpriced; service is steady but far from memorable; and the quality of the dishes, at least in comparison to other area Thai restaurants, is not what I remember it having been a few years ago.
As much as I like Toomie’s lunch menu, I chose to order a couple of smaller plates off the dinner menu when I came at midday.
The Thai egg roll was not what I expected. In fact, it was different than anything else I remember having been served in a Thai restaurant. Two chilled, French-style crepes were wrapped around slices of chicken and barbecued pork, omelet, tofu and cucumber; one of the crepes also had cooked bean sprouts. A light tamarind gravy was spooned over the top, and a few fingers of crab meat offered garnish on top.
In the four corners of the egg-roll plate, an eclectic variety of condiments was presented. Chopped green onions were appropriate to the dish. Thickly sliced jalapeno peppers and a spicy Chinese mustard were far too overpowering for the subtle flavors. Shredded cabbage added nothing.
I much preferred laab gai, a warm salad of minced chicken (also available as minced pork) that is found on the menus of many Thai restaurants. Here, as elsewhere, the meat is sauteed with mint leaves and diced red onions, and served with a cold side salad of white cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, tomato slices and Chinese parsley.
My only complaint about the presentation was that the cabbage was sliced too thinly to be used for wrapping the meat mixture. Instead, I was inclined to spoon the laab upon sticky white rice and wash it down with a glass of Thai iced tea, topped with sweetened condensed milk. All in all, it was a very satisfying dish.
At a more standard dinner, a companion and I ordered three dinner entrees to share with steamed rice. We ordered the trio of dishes “three stars” on a spiciness scale of five, and even at that mid-range level found them almost too hot for our Asian-trained palates.
If you don’t know what spice level you’re comfortable with, I strongly recommend erring on the side of conservatism.
In two of the dishes, there were ingredients that were undercooked. This was especially notable in the Massaman beef dish; chunks of potato are a key element, and they were still crunchy in the middle. But the beef itself was very tasty and tender, stewed with peanuts in coconut milk with red chili sauce.
In a green curry entree, made with pork and coconut milk, I found the ample slices of Asian eggplant to be insufficiently cooked. Again, however, the other ingredients were fine. The meat was tender, while whole basil leaves and slivers of green and red bell pepper added zest.
Our third dish was a blackboard special. Skin-on slices of duck breast were stir-fried with onions, bell peppers and basil, along with a generous amount of chili flakes and minced garlic. As much as I enjoyed the bird, I would have preferred it with a more subtle application of herbs and spices.
The most notable feature of Toomie’s decor is the restaurant’s large picture windows facing Minnesota Avenue. While this makes for excellent people watching, diners who don’t want to be gawked at by pedestrians might choose tables further inside, beneath the Thai masks or among the scattered greenery.
The Red Rooster Restaurant and Omelet House has opened in Redmond in the former location of Chloe North Redmond Station — next to the Sleep Inn motel and across U.S. Highway 97 from Wal-Mart. The menu includes 38 omelets and two dozen dinner entrees priced under $10, as well as $16.99 rib-eye and T-bone steaks. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday to 10 p.m. Sunday. 1857 N.W. Sixth St., Redmond; 541-526-7209.
The Bond Street Grill closed July 30 in downtown Bend. Owner Chris Nardella had purchased the former Decoy Bar & Grill in October 2010 and made subtle changes to menu and decor, but struggled in the down economy.
Planker Sandwiches (A-): A career restaurateur opened this top-value, gourmet sandwich shop in May in the former location of a downtown Bend creperie. Patrons order tasty, hearty sandwiches, paninis, crepes, soups and breakfast items from a trio of blackboard menus. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. 824 N.W. Wall St., Bend; www.plankersandwiches.com or 541-317-5717.
El Jimador (A-): A partnership between Baltazar Chavez of Baltazar’s and Roberto Anaya of El Caporal has resulted in a fine renovation of a corner restaurant in downtown Bend. Seafood and other dishes are outstanding, even if service slips when the owners are away. Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 801 N.W. Wall St., Bend; 541-318-1333.
Riverside Market & Pub (B+): An Old Bend neighborhood hangout, the Riverside offers good, casual, deli-style breakfasts, sandwiches and salads. A hip young staff takes orders at the counter and provides table service. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 285 N.W. Riverside Blvd., Bend; www.riversidemarketbend.com or 541-389-0646.
Chan’s (B): A major renovation after a disastrous fire has given this 25-year-old restaurant a new look, with more space for dining and exhibiting art. But the menu remains the same as before, with Westernized variations of Chinese regional dishes. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. 1005 S.E. Third St., Bend; www.chanschinese.com or 541-389-1725.