Monday, May 24, 2010

Anchalee in Berkeley

With enough Thai restaurants in Berkeley as there are Priuses, it can be difficult to spot the good ones like Anchalee. Located in the same building as CaffĂ© Trieste on the corner of Dwight Way and San Pablo Avenue, Anchalee offers Thai cuisine in a contemporary setting. This isn’t a hole-in-the-wall for college students to get early morning grub, but a proper restaurant where you can afford to treat your parents.

The menu is small, fitting on one side of an 8”X11”, but you get a good variety of soups, salads, appetizers, curries, rice and noodle dishes and daily specials. Entrees range from $8 to $10, and you can substitute brown rice for $0.75. Even more affordable is happy hour with $5 appetizers and $3 bottled beers, 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

On a recent weekend, we stopped for a couple appetizers and entrees. The goong grabog of shrimp fried with fresh herbs in a wonton skin fried made shrimp tempura look like an ugly step child. Paired with a housemade sweet plum sauce, the dish was inspirational as it’s on my test kitchen list. The vegetables were also lightly fried and paired perfectly with the cold beers.

I never liked the gelatinous, spongy texture of radish cakes but decided to try the kanom pak kard, or steamed radish cakes. As expected, they were dense cubes with the consistency of a baked potato, but the crunch from the fresh bean sprouts and the tang from the sweet and sour sauce almost made me a fan.

After the fried treats, the sweet aroma of Thai basil wafting from my pad ke-mao was a welcome change. The stir-fried rice noodle, green bean, tomato, prawn and bell pepper dish was excellent but could have used a tad more prawns as I found only four. The dish was correctly marked mild, so the spiciness ratings are not too conservative.

Against my better judgment, we also ordered the beef skewers. I have always been disappointed by restaurant skewers because the meat is usually overcooked, dry and tough. My dining partner insisted on the skewers, and it was just as described. I don’t fault Anchalee because I have never been anywhere where this wasn’t the case. Avoid the skewers and you'll be content.

What makes Anchalee stand out from other Thai eateries is the presentation and freshness. This isn’t oily, greasy food thrown haphazardly onto a plate with sauce everywhere. Dishes come out clean and organized, and make you want to eat. Anchalee was an excellent neighborhood surprise and I have a feeling I’ll be a regular at weekend happy hour.

1094 Dwight Way, Berkeley


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