Cincinnati has seen a surge of Thai restaurants. In addition to Hyde Park, Mount Adams and Clifton, you can now find Amarin, opened earlier this year in Madeira. Straddling a corner of Miami Avenue on the site of a former bank, Amarin offers all that Thai food lovers seek — from spicy curried dishes to Pad Thai and fresh sushi — all at reasonable prices.
Although I've led a sheltered life when it comes to food, I love Thai cuisine. Keep in mind, I was raised on the Cincinnati's west side, where an ethnic meal consisted of spaghetti and meatballs, or an occasional trip to Lenhardt's when relatives came to town. It wasn't until college that I discovered Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other Eastern cuisine and the wonderful curries and spices that define them. Thai food blends influences from all these, as well as Western cuisine, to create flavorful dishes of fresh vegetables, seafood, beef, pork or poultry combined with spices, chilies and fresh herbs.
Amarin is drawing a crowd of fellow Thai food lovers, especially on a Saturday night. As we pulled into the limited parking lot, folks were standing or sitting in the former bank's drive-through lane — now outfitted with a few tables equipped for outdoor dining. Fortunately, our wait was short, and the weather was cooperative as we gathered with the others outside.
It's easy to imagine the site as a bank, especially inside. I could picture the tiny kitchen and sushi bar behind what was a line of tellers, and booths and tables tucked neatly along walls that probably held counters or a loan officer's desk. It's also now clear why folks wait outside: The tight fit leaves little room inside for loitering or a pre-dinner drink.
On this night, the dining room was packed, and servers were hustling to keep tables turning. After being seated for a few minutes, we flagged down our server and requested a couple of appetizers: the chicken Satay ($5.95) and Poh Piah Tod (Thai Rolls) ($4.25). Although we passed on sushi at this point, we indulged in a few Sapporo and Asahi beers while we looked over the entrées.
Our appetizers arrived in short order. The Satay was plump and moist. The skewered strips of chicken were lightly breaded and fried, served with a delicious peanut sauce for dipping. Aside from one tough piece that wouldn't give up its wooden skewer, the others disappeared in moments. I liked the Thai Rolls even more: miniature rolls filled with diced chicken and vegetables, deep-fried and served with sweet chili sauce. Unfortunately, the three rolls didn't stretch far enough between the four of us.
Our entrées, however, provided plenty to fill the void. My husband's Chicken Thai Spicy ($9.95) consisted of a hearty plate full of broccoli, baby corn, bok choy and sliced stir-fried chicken in a spicy red curry sauce. (Most of the spicy dishes can be ordered with a mild, medium or spicy punch.) His dish would have been enough for two to share, easily. Even though he requested "spicy," the red curry sauce was flavorful, not so hot that the sweet and tangy flavors were squelched.
Although the menu featured many dishes I've never tried and vow to someday (such as the Mango Curry chicken dish or the Seafood Choo Chee, just because I love the name), I needed to have my fill of Pad Thai ($9.95). I love those sloppy rice noodles and how they soak up the delicious brown, sweet, nutty sauce. The dish far surpasses macaroni and cheese as my favorite comfort food any day. Amarin does their version well, combining chicken and shrimp with crunchy bean sprouts and crushed peppers. I also was pleased that the spiciness did not overpower the flavor, as I have experienced at other places.
One of our guests ordered his meal from the sushi menu: the Nigiri Sushi Deluxe ($14.95). A sushi novice (his words, not mine), he was pleased with his selection of octopus, tuna, salmon and other nigiri treats. Unfortunately, all those beautifully packaged little bundles take time, and his dish was delivered several minutes after our hot entrées arrived. While he waited, he nibbled on his guest's healthy Vegetable Rainbow ($8.95), a stir-fry of veggies and tofu in a sweet, light brown sauce. Like Chicken Thai Spicy, it was served with steamed rice and offered plenty to share.
Having had more than our fill (and much to the relief of our harried server), we didn't even ask about desserts; though we did see several scoops of green tea ice cream being delivered to nearby tables.
With so many influences, Thai food offers enough variety to please everyone. Add in Amarin's cozy setting and fresh sushi, and folks will have plenty to enjoy.
Go: 7022 Miami Ave., Madeira
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10:30 p.m.
Payment: All major credit cards.
Vegetarian Friendliness: Many veggie and tofu features. Or create your own dish
Other: Full sushi bar. Menu available for carry out. Limited outdoor dining.