1070 Osgood St. (Route 125), North Andover 978-685-7979Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m. -- 3 p.m. ; Mon.-Fri. 5 -- 10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5 - 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.
No smokingMajor credit cards
Chai, a new Thai restaurant in North Andover, is the nickname of the owner, Vuttichai Senabunyarithi.
He and his family moved here from Thailand, a quarter-century ago, and opened a couple of New Hampshire restaurants: Giant of Siam, in Nashua, and Chao Praya, in Salem. Their latest venture, Chai, opened a year ago. It's housed in a Colonial-style building, resembling many of the large homes in the area. The dining room's soaring open-beam ceiling gives a lofty feeling, as if being in church.
Senabunyarithi strives to appeal to a broad clientele by offering two menus: Japanese and Thai. What's a little disconcerting is that the two cuisines have little in common other than rice.
We ordered from the Thai menu, because that's why we had chosen Chai in the first place. This was a good move, as it took us a while to read through the 90 items on just the one menu. We started with one of our Thai favorites, bags of gold ($6.99). The name described the diced shrimp and vegetables stuffed inside wonton skins, which were tied off with seaweed. The bags were deep fried and served with a tangy, Thai plum sauce. It was tasty, but the stuffing was a little chunkier than expected.
For a second appetizer, we ordered kinnare wings ($5.75). These were marinated, deep-fried chicken wings, served with a sweet chili sauce. My husband and I would have preferred more spice, but Senbunyarithi said he tones it down to accommodate the more sensitive New England palate.
From the chef's specialties, we ordered three entrees. Rainbow ($14.95), as the name implies, was a happy, multi-colored combo of sauted shrimp, beef, chicken, carrots, baby corn, snow peas, onions, and cashews, mixed with a tangy red sauce.
Feeling a little more adventurous, we chose Typhoon ($17.99), one of the extra spicy items. Judging by the ingredients -- salmon, shrimp, and squid sauted with Thai and Mexican chili peppers and steamed mussels -- it looked quite promising to spicy-food lovers like us. Unfortunately, it was not at all fiery. Again, Senabunyarithi said he was afraid of making the dish too spicy.
Certainly Thai food doesn't need to be hot to be good, and the butcher grilled sirloin ($15.99) is a great example. This whole sirloin was marinated in a black bean sauce and served with a sweet cinnamon prune sauce, sherry, garlic, and ginger. It was topped by slices of prunes. The only improvement here could have been a better cut of meat, such as a filet.
The chicken pad thai ($8.99), a Thai standard, was quite good. Thin, flat rice stick noodles were sauted with bean sprouts, scallions, and dried shrimp, and then blended with Thai spices and a peanut sauce. Crushed peanuts capped the mound of noodles.
Desserts were limited to sorbet, ginger ice cream, fried ice cream ($4.95), and fried bananas ($4.59).
One of the pleasures in Thai dining is the exotic romp through the spice rack -- a fusion of unexpected tastes as found in butcher grilled sirloin. Unfortunately, not all of the dishes were as bold and exciting.
It occurred to me that something is sacrificed when one tries too hard to please everyone. This, unfortunately, appears to be true of Chai.