Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.
Khoom Lanna, the new Thai restaurant in Railroad Square, certainly lives up to its name. Khoom was the former residence of the Thai royal family; Lanna, the isolated kingdom considered a cradle of Thai culture. Khoom Lanna feels like an oasis in the middle of Santa Rosa, and it certainly is a place where you're given the royal treatment.
When we stepped inside one afternoon, my guy, Doug, and I were carried away on a calming veil of color, sound and delicious smells. The place is really gorgeous, with two tones of dusty and deeper rose on the walls, elaborate tapestries of boats and dancing women and slow ceiling fans with broad petals, like giant spinning frangipani blossoms. They proudly play original jazz composed by His Majesty the King, Phumiphon Adunyadet, which Pookie, one of the owners, told us one patron had found "not Thai enough," whatever that means. Now they play traditional Thai music, too.
All the standard favorites are served, along with some surprises. If you stick to the lunch menu, all options (satay, pad Thai, chili basil, curry, etc.) are $7.95 and include salad, appetizer and jasmine rice. You can specify chicken, pork, beef or vegetables, and your desired level of spiciness on a scale of one to 10. We chose green curry chicken ($7.95), which was just about as good as it gets, with chunks of zucchini, green beans, green and red bell pepper, and a taste of kaffir lime, basil and just the right amount of heat.
The grilled Bangkok fish ($12.95) is breaded tilapia cooked crunchy on a flavorful beside a bed of julienned red onions, carrots, green apples, cilantro, and accented by a beet cleverly cut into a flower. The duck breast with honey ($17.95) was luscious: tender, smoky meat with layers of sweet (honey? molasses?) and savory spinach. The pumpkin was cooked to such a smoothness, it dissolved in the mouth. The Singha beer (a necessary accompaniment to Thai food) was a tad dear at $4.50 a bottle for an otherwise affordable lunch.
Between courses, Pookie came to our table to chat about the food cooked by chef Yee, the ups and downs of running a new restaurant and the changing face of her hometown of Bangkok (see Bangkok's SkyTrain). Although we were quite full, she ignored our demurrals about dessert, saying she'd already prepared us two to try. Whisking back from the kitchen, she brought a platter on which a perfectly ripe mango was sliced thin and arranged in the shape of a baby whale. At the center, a mound of sticky rice was drizzled with coconut milk and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I don't even like dessert, but I loved that one. On another dish were skewers of fried panko-covered banana with honey and served with coconut ice cream, which stayed on Doug's side of the table. Both of these were offered on the house. Talk about being treated like royalty.
Khoom Lanna, 107 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Open for lunch and dinner daily. 707.545.8424.