Rin’s Thai

Area street maps don’t show it, but locals have long known of a shortcut that leads from downtown Sonoma directly to Bangkok. Here’s the trick: head east on East Napa Street to number 139, enter, eat. Now, it might only look like an elegantly preserved Victorian home, but trust me, it’s a portal to Southeast Asia – at least conceptually. The moment the aroma of sumptuous Thai cuisine wafts into your nose, you’re instantly transported. Sure, it may not be Thailand proper, but the authentic menu infused with a wine country sensibility is tantalizingly close enough – and the moderate prices are certainly cheaper than airfare.

Formerly located on Broadway, Rin’s moved to its current location five years ago and is run by an garrison of family proprietors – Robert and Yupa Garrett and Anthony and Arisa Kamindr, whose warm and friendly hospitality is felt the moment one enters the well-appointed former home. This helps in creating a cozy atmosphere (attracting more than few first dates this particular evening) and reminds that Thai cuisine, despite it’s exotic trappings, is ultimately comfort food.

Once seated, the journey begins with a bevy of choices from the starter menu. Standouts include the prawn wraps, an interesting spin on the battered and fried variety more often in seen in Thai restaurants. The crustacean is wrapped in the square of light dough, of the sort usually used for spring rolls, then lightly fried. The result is an airy and crisp confection, which comes well-paired with a cucumber salad.

The sesame chicken salad, shredded and grilled chicken tossed with carrots, zucchini and bean sprouts and served with a sesame soy dressing, also makes for a zesty start. Ditto for the vegetarian salad rolls, which finds lettuce, tofu and rice noodles wrapped in rice paper. The appetizer has a snappy, garden-fresh quality to it and brought my companion to share her observation that many Asian-style cuisines end up sodden with oils when exported to the West – but not Rin’s – where most of the dishes have a refreshing “lightness” to them without sacrificing heartiness.

Likewise, the ginger chicken is a refreshing, piquant interpretation of the classic dish, rife with the spice that is its namesake. Surrounded with julienned carrots, green onions and mushrooms and a whisper of garlic, the sautéed entrée is an incredible bargain at $9.25.

An occasional special is a crispy salmon filet served in a creamy green curry. In a seldom seen treatment of the fish, the filet was presented with a light and flaky coating on the outside but remains delicate inside. The dish went marvelously well with the 2004 J. Vineyards Pinot Gris. For that matter, everything went well with the stalwart 2002 Ravenswood Cabernet (of course, many local wines are represented on the generous list), though I wisely switched to the imported Thai beers when moving onto the curries.

Indeed, no trip to a Thai restaurant is complete without a sampling of the spicy standby. At Rin’s, I tried the Gang Dang, a red curry with notes of pepper and spice pleasantly blunted by coconut curry, with just enough heat to chase away one’s autumnal blues. It comes brimming with green beans and choice of meat, seafood or vegetable (I went with the chicken, which maintained its subtle flavor without being overwhelmed by the curries). We finished with fried ice cream – a feat of engineering, wherein a scoop of ice cream is dipped in a sweet batter then is deep-fried so quickly the ice cream hasn’t a chance to melt. This proved a perfect balm for my lips, which often swell to the size of a bee-stung super model’s whenever curry comes near. I tell ‘ya, there’s nothing sillier than a restaurant reviewer saying “kith me” to his dining companion.