It might seem odd for a new Thai restaurant to open in Commercial Center, where the legendary Lotus of Siam resides, along with vegetarian-oriented Thai stalwart Komol. But the new kid on the block, Arawan, is very different from those two, and its food showcases fresh, vibrant flavors that should help it compete in a very strong Thai restaurant city.
Its soft music, blond wood flooring and breezy decor set a relaxed tone rare in this part of the Valley. Extra attention is also paid to the presentation of the plates, most of which stand apart from the typical piled-high platters of noodles, rice and stir-fry or heaping bowls of curry found in most neighborhood Thai eateries. It’s clear Arawan is about refinement, certainly evident in its beautiful, must-eat-each-bite desserts. Vanilla bean crème brûlée ($9) is topped with a spherical cage of crunchy sugar, and the standard sweet sticky rice with mango ($9) is served with coconut and mango sauces and an eye-dropper of sweetened fresh coconut juice. They taste as good as they look.
Apologies for starting with dessert, though that’s not a bad idea. Actual appetizers include chicken satay ($7) in bite-sized pieces, fresh rolls ($7) filled with shrimp and vegetables, and egg som tam ($12), a salad of papaya, tomato, green beans, pork sausage and rinds and salted egg in a spicy-sweet chili-lime dressing.
The showcase dishes at Arawan are mostly seafood, like whole fried catfish ($27) with lemongrass, mint, garlic and cashews or whole sea bass over a bed of spicy chili-garlic-lime sauce. Lobster is battered and sauteéd with red curry paste, basil and lime leaves ($24). A softshell crab special was dressed in that chili-lime elixir and topped with eggs scrambled with yellow curry. A non-fish favorite is crispy ribeye basil ($19), tender meat with basil, mushrooms, bell peppers and Thai chili.
As flashy and tasty as those dishes can be, ordering your favorite Thai standbys at Arawan is the way to go. There’s a bright, popping freshness to the curries that I haven’t encountered in a while, and I eat a lot of local Thai food. Arawan’s version of drunken noodles ($19) involves squid-ink spaghetti and plenty of shrimp, squid, cod, scallops and mussels. Pad Thai ($14) has extra-thin noodles and two giant fried prawns on top.
For a new restaurant, Arawan seems to have a strong vision. It will have to continue that way to be mentioned alongside its Commercial Center neighbors and our city’s other top Thai restaurants, but it’s on the right path.
Arawan Thai Bistro & Dessert 953 E. Sahara Ave. #E14, 702-734-7799. Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.