Exotic is a relative term. For us students, Williamstown is the norm. We may complain about the weather, but at least we expect it. But when Sam and Lily moved here from South Beach, Florida to open Thai Garden, Williamstown seemed like a whole new world to them. There the nightlife starts at 10 p.m.; here it ends at 9:30. Here we spend our winters huddled around our computers for warmth; there you can have Christmas on the beach. And although Thai food may be commonplace in Florida, it’s a unique and welcomed addition to the Williamstown palette.
“There are no Thai restaurants within five miles of here. You have to drive an hour to get to the nearest one,” said Sam, when discussing the reasons that he and his friend from Kean, Pan-Nom, decided to go into business. Lily, Sam’s girlfriend who recently got a degree in finance from the University of Miami, also pointed out that the most expensive main dish at Thai Garden is cheaper than the cheapest dishes at most other local restaurants – excluding Subway, but I wouldn’t bring a date there.
These two are onto something. Thai Garden is a great restaurant because the food is delicious and cheap. Add on a liquor license, and it is the perfect place for a Williams student to take a date.
Appetizers ($3.50-$5): For dinner, I had the Spring Rolls, Steamed Dumplings, and Chicken Satay. The Satay is either chicken or beef and comes with peanut sauce and cucumber salad. (Lily assured me that the chicken was the way to go.) Although I found the chicken a little under-grilled, which deprived the dish of the smoky caramelization that should make it so good, I had to agree. The spring rolls, dumplings and satay were nothing out of the ordinary, but they were nonetheless very tasty.
I also had the Chicken Hot & Sour Soup ($2.95), which had a delicious spicy flavor, a balance of lemon grass, limejuice, chilies, mushrooms and cilantro that one cannot find in any of the dining halls.
Main Courses ($6-$15): Knowing I had to sample a vegetarian dish, I opted for the Vegetarian Pad Thai and was pleasantly surprised. Along with the traditional Thai noodles, it had deep-fried tofu (which is the best way to prepare it), egg, crushed peanuts and assorted veggies. It was another simple dish and another delightful main course.
Next, I decided on a seafood dish. Usually I’m weary of seafood dishes in the Berkshires – I always skip sushi night at Driscoll – and when I tried the Seafood Adventure, I remembered why I have this rule. That night, the Seafood Adventure contained squid and scallops along with assorted vegetables. Its colorful presentation could not make up for the fact that the squid was overcooked. You can either cook squid for 20 seconds or 20 minutes, but anywhere in between leaves the squid like rubber.
I assume that because this dish is an “adventure,” the seafood in it changes periodically. So you may have better luck than I did, but Sam told me that all the seafood they serve comes frozen, a good reason to just steer clear.
Any disappointment left by the seafood was instantly washed away when I sampled the greatest dish that Thai Garden has to offer: curry. Thai Garden offers seven different curries, and each comes with a choice of meat. I suggest that you ask your sever for some help when you order, so that you can pair your meat choice with the proper curry. Under Lily’s advice, I got the Massaman Curry with beef. Without a doubt, it was the best dish of the evening.
I’m not a curry expert, so Thai Garden’s curry may be only average as far as Thai curries go. But, as far as good food in Williamstown goes, this is treat that you cannot be found anywhere else. Something as simple – and yet exotic to us – as coconut milk makes this sweet and spicy dish a beautiful balance of flavors that will be an adventure for any New England local. But be careful: it’s heavy, so don’t gulp it all down and order it with rice to balance the strength of the dish.
Desserts (all $2.75): The main course serving sizes are huge, and I doubt that’ll you’ll have any room for any dessert at all, let alone the Fried Banana and Honey. But if you’re looking to gain back, or add to, your freshman fifteen, I suggest you get the Homemade Thai Custard. It’s similar to flan, but with the extra sweetness of coconut milk.
The Thai Garden is not gourmet, but it is a low priced restaurant where the servings are generous and the food is delicious. My advice is to take your date to dinner – don’t bother with a reservation – try a Thai tea or coffee, split an appetizer and main course and thank your lucky stars that an affordable and enjoyable restaurant has opened up within walking distance of the campus.