TYPHOON - Thia food in Northwest Portland

by Louis & Annette Bignami

While Thai and an eclectic mishmash of restaurants that want to be gastronomically correct must be denuding the lemon grass fields of Asia, Typhoon is totally different.

It's the kind of place in takeoff mode, and it's certain that years from now people will yearn for the good old days at Typhoon when the portions were twice as large and prices twice as low.

Located in a mini-mall in the Yuppie neighborhood of Northwest Portland, Typhoon could be a local restaurant in Thailand. Parking is dubious, but the search for a spot takes you past some of Portland's most interesting shops.

The setting is plain, the removable front wall of small glass panes and the brightly painted overhead ducts create a happy babble of conversation. Decorative touches are sparse. Tables have glass tops and reasonably comfortable chairs are metal and wood. It's usually crowded for lunch and dinner.

This isn't the spot for a power lunch, but it's a wonderful choice if you want to eat "real Thai." As the owner noted, "we put our money into the food." Real Thai basil, "proper Thai peppers" and other ingredients raise the Thai food here to a level we've enjoyed only in spots like London's Blue Elephant, which many consider serves the best Thai food in the world.

Typhoon's isn't a tourist menu. Although some dishes share common names, the dishes we tried -- and we tried eight last visit -- share uncommon touches and fabulous flavors. Chef Bo Lohasowot Kline's background in Thai food started at home with family cooks. She's a graduate of Chulalongkom University, Thailand's Harvard, and helped establish the restaurant operations at Amapuri, Asia's premier series of five star resorts.

Chef Bo's extensive professional extensive professional experience as a chef restaurant consultant allows her to combine traditional Thai "gourmet" dishes like Hor Mok, with some amazingly simple finds like Miang Kum. This last "nibble" combines pinches of toasted coconut, shallot, ginger, lime, peanut, tiny shrimp and, after the first trial, a tiny, tiny bit of Thai chili. Everything gets wrapped in a young spinach leaf that's popped into your mouth to explode into flavors. At the upscale end of the economic spectrum, Hor Mok serves up a covered dish with a village of clay tops covering shrimp cooked in coconut curry sauce.

A solid variation of Tom Kah Gai. Thailand's famous chicken coconut soup flavored with lemon grass, lime juice and chili leads to and an extensive selection of their rather off-putting "Oodles of Noodles" heading . Given this, and the very large bowls of rice that accompany entrees, the Chinese custom of ordering one dish for each diner and of for the table deserves consideration.

The classic Thai beef dish with onion in a lime juice-based dressing seems the best of the salads, but we usually pass this for Bo's grilled beef with grapes entree that tops slice tenderloin with a special sauce and both red and green grapes. Other entrees include too many favorites to do much more than list. A special duck curry highlights my gastronomic memories with lots of duck with crisp skin in a medium-hot red curry. Spicy chicken or shrimp with crispy Thai basil falls into the "Yee-hah" heat class! Chicken in green curry runs a bit milder, it smothers slices of chicken with a light green curry sauce.

All of these come with huge dishes of rice, the traditional underpinnings of Southeast Asian food. One result of this is an almost ignorance of Typhoon desserts that run to fried bananas or espresso creme brulee, both served with chocolate sauce.

Note: Most dishes are prepared to your preferences and specifications, from mild to "Yee-hah" spicy. You may rest assured those dishes marked "Yee-hah" deserve your considered respect.

2310 North West Everet St./503.243.7557