- 1411 E. 10th St., Jeffersonville, IN, 47130
- (812) 282-0198
- Overall User Rating:
- (4 ratings)
- 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
At some point in the history of Western food writing, it became customary to say that Thai cooks are preoccupied with balancing sweet, sour, salty and bitter elements. We could say the same thing about every one of the world’s great cuisines.
But let’s grant that the Thai aesthetic is especially mindful about harmonizing those four dimensions — and because Thai cooks work with pantries that include coconut milk, citrus, fish sauce, some of the most fiery chilies in the world, ample supplies of ginger, garlic, all the great herbs and spices of the East, and an especially pungent strain of garlic, they’re well-prepared to turn those four dimensions into spectacular dishes. And you’ll often find the most spectacular dishes in the most humble settings.
Mai’s Thai in Jeffersonville occupies one of those utilitarian strip mall spaces that would seem cold and anonymous, but for the colorful photos, posters and images of Thai life and landscapes, the rack of imported scarves, bags and neckties, and the beat of Thai pop music that streams softly in the background.
Service one day might be crisp and businesslike, the next warm and bubbly — but always seems efficient and eager to please — especially when owner Mai Meyers scoots out of the kitchen and starts chatting up the customers, whom she treats like friends who’ve dropped by for a visit.
View the online video that’s published on the Web with this review, and you’ll hear Meyers say that she cooks for customers the same way she cooks for herself. And her way of cooking emphasizes fresh ingredients, house-made sauces and intricate, bold flavors.
At its core, her philosophy sounds like what you’d hear from great home cooks in Tuscany, Provence, Kentucky or Louisiana. And if you love great home cooking, you’ll find Mai’s cooking irresistible.
Hand-formed dumplings (kanom jeeb) are crowned with a crunchy bits of fried garlic, wrapped in a firm batter that first resists your bite, then opens to reveal innards made from a mild, spice-inflected mash of shrimp and pork — the delicacy of the mix subtly emphasized by crisp bits of water chestnut. If an accompanying dribble of sweet and sour doesn’t seem necessary, just remember that sometimes the things you don’t need give you the most pleasure ($3.99).
Salads — refreshing laab, a classic blend of minced chicken (or pork) dressed in mint and lime juice, with scallions and shallots ($7.99), or shrimp dressed with citrusy, minty flavors ($9.99) — make fine, light, shareable dishes.
And in cold weather, sour and spicy soups, like tom kha gai (chicken, mushrooms, cilantro and lime leaves in a coconut milk base, $4.99/$7.99) or hot and sour combinations featuring shrimp, beef or mixed seafood ($3.99-$13.99), have all the curative and comforting powers a liquid can offer.
Mai’s entree list includes fried rice options ($7.99-$9.99) and stir-fried dishes served with rice ($7.49-$8.99), including fiery pad prik (pork or beef with veggies, jalapenos and a fiery sauce), pad bai gra prow (choice of meat, with house-made basil sauce, $8.99), or pad khing (where ginger sets the tone, $7.49).
But me, I’m hung up on the noodle dishes and the curries (all of which, like the other entrees, can be ordered meat-free). Gua teow pad keemow — the famous Thai dish known as “drunken noodles” — is as tangled as a P.G. Wodehouse plotline, and just as fun, with startling dashes of pungent imported Thai basil squashed into a house-made paste, and as much chili heat as you can stand ($8.99).
Speaking of heat, when Meyers says she cooks for customers the way she cooks for herself, she means it. Where the default spice setting at many Thai restaurants is toned down for Western tastes, Mai’s dishes start out at a pretty respectable level (though there are plenty of mild dishes): If you see one of those little chili peppers next to a menu item, it means something. Ask for her to fix something “Thai hot,” and she will, but if she has time, she might pop out first, and give you a sample of the dish at a lower setting — just so you’ll know what you’re getting into.
“Hot” is usually hot enough for me, and even at that it’s not a bad idea to have a bowl of steamed rice or a glass of Thai iced tea or coffee ($2.50) or a bottle of beer on hand — just in case that plate of Thai hot pad Thai ($8.99) gets you into an uncomfortable sweat.
One amazing thing, though: Even at their hottest settings, Mai’s dishes never turn into one-dimensional heat rockets. Even when your mouth feels like a small nuclear reactor, you can still discern all the other intricate details to be found in a house-made red curry — maybe the brothy pad ped, $9.99, or the thicker coconut milk-based gaeng panang ($12.50), or my personal favorite, the pale yellow gaeng garee, with potatoes, onions and carrots ($9.99).