3418 Old Hickory Blvd.
Somchay Litchana is a busy man. One minute he’s working the kitchen and the next he’s out in the dining room checking on customers. He pays great attention to detail and that translates to the food. What doesn’t translate very well is the name of the restaurant. We still giggle when looking at the business card. You see Simply Thai serves Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese food. Of course those cuisines are closely linked due to the region. We think though, what he probably means in that name is that the dishes themselves are simple and focused and that much seems to be true. Mr. Litchana has worked in several area Thai restaurants and the experience shows.
On the Laotian side of things, start with the laarb. The Simply Thai version is a light, citrusy dish with mint, bean sprouts and pickled onion. The chili, lime and cilantro are well proportioned and the tofu a perfect accompaniment. We immediately appreciate the fact that most dishes on the menu can be ordered with tofu, which gives the Veggie Eater a full range of options. Tom Kar, coconut soup, has a clearer broth than I’m used to, so it seems a bit watery at first. It reveals a good flavor though, and is perhaps symptomatic of the joint- there’s a light hand in just about everything we tasted, no heavy sauces or bold heat.
Wide noodles with peanut sauce hit the spot with tender pork and a lovely flavor. There’s a mix-up on the curry order one day and I wind up with a standard red curry. The medium heat seems a bit mild really and yet the richness of the curry makes up for it. Super-crisp zucchini, carrots and peppers load up the bowl.
Pho is the primary Vietnamese part of the menu and the Laotian specialties are sprinkled throughout the menu. We tried to get the house made coconut ice cream and found that they were out. The same for mango. Ah well, perhaps another time.
Veggie Eater: It’s a somewhat quirky space. It appears the tables have been re-purposed from a Chinese restaurant, that or I have always misunderstood the home range of pandas (Thai folks are quite enamored with their new pandas on loan to a zoo from China-M.E.). The menu offers no key or menu descriptions to denote spicy items, nor does the wait staff ask if you have a heat preference. My thought was simply to order as is and eat as is (and there was a bit of a language barrier). Meat Eater alluded to the fact that almost every app and entrée has a veggie option (either mixed veggies or tofu), making this a wonderfully veggie friendly restaurant. The fresh rolls live up to the name and are stuffed with cilantro, mint, tofu, lettuce, rice and carrots and served with a zesty dipping sauce that is both hot and sweet. I’m a sucker for cellophane noodles and Pad Woonsen was the choice for my first visit. The menu bills the dish as a generous portion of noodles, etc. and I found truth in advertising. It was loaded with corn, tofu, scallions, onions, sprouts, shrooms, and egg. I found it a little greasy and a bit on the tame side. Next time up, I opted for the Drunken Noodles (which have now became my new “Pad Thai” dish—I just get stuck in a rut). Big wide rice noodles are topped with a mound of veggies, tofu, basil, egg, and peanuts. It was mildly zippy in spice. I believe at least three different readers of this blog have contacted us to recommend Simply Thai in hopes that they can nurture this new restaurant along. I second that hope.
Meat Eater: Mr. Litchana is still trying to get the wait staff trained properly. There were a few bumps in the road on both our visits. Everyone is quite nice but there’s a big language barrier and a lack of knowledge with the menu. It’s a small dining room with a tin roof and wood plank walls. We walked in on a loud group of 15 and it was loud. We thought we were in for one of those restaurant perfect storm moments, especially as more people walked in the door. There were certainly issues, but for the most part Mr. Litchana and his meager staff hustled their way through it- while still maintaining a cheerful disposition. That’s a performance to make any food blogger smile.
We paid $36 with tax and tip on one visit and $32 with tax and tip on another.