Tiny Thai is a Big Treat in Cotati
Never has sidewalk seating been so valuable as it is at Tiny Thai, a terrific - yes tiny - Thai eatery on Cotati's main drag. There are just a dozen chairs in the storefront, tucked in with a cashier stand and the entrance to a miniature kitchen.
And on most nights, every seat is full, with diners at risk of being jostled by an endless stream of folks coming in to pick-up takeout.
The fuss is because chef-owner Kack Brightman is the real deal, turning out sumptuous, authentic cuisine so deftly prepared and prettily presented that she could be operating a restaurant several times larger. Yet let’s be honest, part of the charm of the place is that it’s so, well, tiny.
Brightman hails from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, where she attended cooking school before moving to California. You can see her in the kitchen, dancing between woks and steamers and the grill. She’s also a master of the flash fryer that turns out exquisite Tiny Rolls ($6.95), slender, crisp wonton tubes stuffed with ground chicken, prawns, carrot and peas, for dunking in sweet-sour sauce.
Though take-out orders are packed in paper containers, this this isn't fast food. The space is decorated in warm gold and tan, hot jasmine tea arrives in a dappled, black iron pot, the bamboo topped tables are set with tiny bowls brimming with fresh flowers, cream is served in a small porcelain elephant pot, and even the straws sticking out of the Thai ice tea ($2.50) are topped with tiny origami roses made from the straw wrapper.
At a recent dinner, my companions marveled over the pretty white porcelain plates, decorated with jasmine or fried rice molded into heart or volcano shapes. The duck basil looked like art, one friend announced, smitten with the careful presentation of moist roasted bird brightened with fresh garlic, chile and basil on a colorful bed of al dente carrot, peas, pineapple, tomato ($13.99).
I ordered the Cotati combo (lunch $8.99/dinner $10.99), and the curry was thoughtfully placed in a bowl, so the sumptuous coconut milk smothering the chicken, carrots and peas wouldn’t make a soggy mess of the accompanying pad Thai noodles and crispy silver noodle-veggie egg roll. I poured curry onto the mound of jasmine rice, and relished the mild spicy burn on my tongue.
“Mild” is a good word to know, and your server will remind you to ask for heat level. Brightman doesn’t dumb down recipes for American palates; spicy, means even medium-level is scorching. I had not customized my tom yum soup with chicken, (small $4.95/large $7.95; beef, pork or tofu is also available, add $3 for prawns), and the first spoonful nearly hurt. Yet the second merely stung, and by the third, my mouth was as happy as I was, savoring the broth of expertly balanced spices, lemongrass, galangal and makrut lime all bobbing with sweet onion, carrots, tomato and mushrooms.
Quick spice Rx can also be found in the som tum salad, laced with juicy papaya, carrot, string beans, crushed peanuts, lime, and a touch of garlic and chile ($7.50). We also made short work of the star-shape golden wonton puffs stuffed with plenty of real, fresh crab moistened with cream cheese and a kick of pickled cucumber ($7.50), rounded out with a refreshing cucumber-carrot-red onion salad bathed in not-too-sweet vinegar and sprinkle of crushed peanuts (included with crab puffs; a la carte $3.95).
One companion’s eyes lit up when she saw pumpkin curry on the menu, and it’s one of the specialties, served at whatever spice level you choose, and stocked with chunks of tender gourd, carrots, onions, peas and basil in velvety red coconut curry. It was just the thing enjoyed with a whole fresh coconut, the shell shaved, the insides stuck with a fluted straw.
Crisp prawns with asparagus in a silky pineapple-coconut milk sauce ($14.99) is another stand-out, as are richly glazed baby back ribs atop pineapple fried rice ($13.99).
As luck would have it, we were able to get the seasonal mango dessert, as well. Big chunks of sweet fruit surround a mound of purple-colored sticky rice drizzled in thick coconut milk ($5.95).
A tiny portion? Not hardly. This delicious finish was big enough for our whole table to share.
Tiny Thai: 8238 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati. (707) 794-9404. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sun.-Wed.; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. No alcohol.
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