Related Articles: Restaurants, All

Yamo Thai

Yamo Reopens in Style

Before Yamo was reopened mid-2004 by Tao-Hue, a veteran bartender, musician and inspired vegetarian chef, Yamo Thai fans lauded the previous owner's salty demeanor and cheap, counter-service Thai dishes. Now that Tao-Hue has taken over, Yamo couldn't be more different, but the prices are still lower than low.

The space has been transformed from an inhospitable hole in the wall to a hip, clean, welcoming cavern serving Tao-Hue's short, creative menu of Thai, Malaysian and Indian flavors. Olive greens, dark reds, and a variety of cool, kitschy art pieces make up the décor, and DVDs of visual treats like Bollywood videos project silently on the wall while mellow music floats above in the tall shoebox-like space.

With only 12 or so counter seats, Yamo is a great place to catch up with a friend or rub shoulders with a hot date, but don't go planning a sit-down dinner for 8 (unless you want to try and arrange something with Tao-Hue beforehand; he's really nice). He's also wicked talented with his mostly organic, all-vegetarian, almost completely vegan ingredients.

Fresh spring rolls ($6) are filled to burst with leafy red chard, julienned green papaya, cucumber, and pickled radish; the concomitant peanut sauce is topped with shaved coconut. Green papaya salad ($6) with starfruit and tomato is piquant with lime and chili. You won't miss the chicken in the coconut-y Tom Kha Khi soup ($7), which fills a huge bowl and contains, among other things, straw mushrooms, onions, and fried tofu. The tofu is interesting; it's made off-site with a complicated process that I believe includes freezing firm tofu, thawing it, squeezing out the water, then deep-frying it. Nothing is deep-fried in-house, so you don't leave smelling like a grease pit! Progress is so magical.

The Pad Thai ($8) does contain eggs, but instead of fish sauce the chef uses mushroom soy and a variety of seaweed essence for flavoring. Two other noodle dishes are offered as well. Curries are $9 and come red or yellow with rice. Our red curry was rich already, with spongy lotus root "croutons", bok choy and starfruit as well as an ornate garnish of marinated banana blossom, but Tao-Hue goes further and adds a huge mango-coconut crepe garnish which dissolves in the curry and gives the spicy-as-you-like sauce a creamy, sweet finish.

Dessert is simple; you can choose from either non-vegan Burmese flan or crème brulee, which isn't crisped on the spot but does have a rich brown sugar base and a unique flavor. Thai iced teas are made with soy milk, and Yamo serves no alcohol.

Smart diners will know two things. Be patient, since each dish is prepared by hand right in front of you, and the dishes aren't simple. Second, give a call ahead; my friend Jason tried to go on a recent Tuesday evening at 9:30pm and found the restaurant closed. The beauty of running a small business; you can be flexible, customize your offerings, talk to your customers, and create a truly special place. As a customer of such a business, a little flexibility yields a fabulous return.