It’s a few days later and I’m still struggling to get my mind around our Chiang Mai Two experience. Granted, we’d stopped by the Novare Res Cask Fest beforehand, so my brain was a mite fuzzy. But, my impressions of the newish Washington Street location of the Thai restaurant would be fuzzy irregardless.

Chiang Mai's marvelous beef salad.

Hard to put my finger on it. It’s not a tangible thing. But something about the food at Chiang Mai didn’t – well – fit together.

I guess the most apropos word for the experience is – erratic.

The rocky start
We grabbed a table for four with Kate and her guy, M. Psyched to have more mouths to try more dishes, we busied ourselves with the multi-page menu. A flurry of ordering ensued. Unfortunately, it began on the wrong foot with two underwhelming appetizers. Fresh, but grandly boring, the Por Phiah Sod (also known as fresh spring rolls) tasted mostly of cold lettuce. Coriander leaf? Mint? I could barely detect them. Thai dumplings of minced pork and shrimp, although kinda tasty, failed miserably in the consistency department. A wheat paper wrapping was little more than a gluey coating. Even the bits of fried garlic on the top couldn’t save the pasty little pockets for me. They also stuck in my teeth. Blech.

I buckled up for a bad meal.

The second-round rally
But then, out came a wonderful beef salad. I mean – truly wonderful. Chosen at the last minute in a bid for more veggies, this crisp and spicy dish became my highlight of the night. A heaping pile of perfectly oiled freshness spilled over the plate with loads with greens, basil, mint, cilantro and tender strips of red pepper beef.

I have to admit I stealthily hoarded it. I’m not sure M even got any!

Also in round two was a kick-ass Tom Khar Kai. Adam took one spoonful and pronounced it “the best I’ve had in Portland.” Once we pried his fingers from the bowl, we all concurred. Tender chicken, onion, and white mushroom baubles floated in the creamiest coconut milk broth this side of the Pacific. Red pepper flakes kicked up the heat several notches. Sublime.

Things were definitely looking up.

Inconsistent mains
But, alas, the rocky road returned once Kate received her Gaeng Panaeng (i.e. curry) and Adam his Tamarind Duck. They represented the two furthest realms of moistness possible. Kate’s pork curry was a thick, sticky, over-rich morass. Adam’s duck was practically still swimming in a lake. Both blew the lid off the heat index at level two. Warning – unless you are a masochist (or originally from Louisiana or Texas), I highly recommend you stick to heat level one at Chiang Mai Two.

They ain’t kidding around.

The uninspired spring rolls

Thankfully, my Pad Thai delivered the goods with nicely cooked noodles, succulent shrimp, snappy bean sprouts, a balanced peanut/tamarind sauce, and — hurrah! — a juicy lime wedge. Folks, I have now found the best Pad Thai in this long (oh, so long) Thai journey thus far.

M, who cheekily challenged the kitchen to “bring me something you’d make for yourself” received a plate of crispy noodles (ya know, like you’d see on a salad bar), broccoli, snap peas, shrimp and chicken. Fresh but flavorless. He kept snaking his spoon over to Kate’s curry to add a little punch. A quick nibble to test, and I couldn’t blame the guy. Really? That’s what the kitchen guys eat? Well, we asked for it.

Blogger’s Note: Yes, I know “irregardless” is a nonstandard double negative. I was challenged to use it in this review – along with three other words that will remain nameless – by my Cask Fest-giddy dinner companions. There. Ya happy now guys?

Blogger’s Second Note: This post is the eleventh in a series of Thai restaurant reviews being conducted — and posted on the same day — by a group of Portland bloggers and writers. For other reviews, check out Portland Food Map.

Chiang Mai on Urbanspoon