Review: Rim Tanon In Upper Kirby Serves A Refined Yet Unfussy Take On Thai
At Rim Tanon, a modest but attractively designed Thai restaurant located at 2241 Richmond (near Hobbit Cafe), three people can comfortably dine together on a hundred spot, total, and all luxuriously cruise through the menu. That covers each person ordering an appetizer, entrée and non-alcoholic beverage.
That is not to say this is “cheap” Thai food. Portion sizes are occasionally a bit small, even for the modest prices, but there’s a beckoning, unfussy elegance about chef Nunnapat Triwatkhunakon’s dishes. Yet, unlike other restaurants that ballyhoo their “upscale” Asian food, Rim Tanon never seems like it’s trying too hard to make an impression. It simply aims to be a comfortable spot for lunch or a casual dinner, made even more so by genuinely helpful servers happy to lend gentle advice or explanations.
Guests used to typical Thai dishes served across Houston are likely to get introduced to new favorite flavors and textures at Rim Tanon. Indeed, it’s well worth going off the beaten path here and steering towards seldom-seen dishes like the $6 Ma Hor appetizer. (The dish is also known as Ma Haw and Ma Ho.) Three, loosely formed “meat balls” of ground pork and peanuts are perched on a “fresh fruit morsel.” Ours came atop pineapple slices. The tropical acidity was just right for brightening the pork concoction, which was a bit crumbly and tended to fall apart, but was worth the effort nonetheless.
Although the moniker is “Modern Thai Street Food” (the “Rim” part of the restaurant name means “roadside”), there are many dishes that will be very familiar to Houstonians. Tom Yum (in this case, the $6 version with shrimp—also available meatless or with chicken) has a Thai chili-driven heat that is middle-of-the-road; it should be tolerable for most palates thanks to being tempered with a bit of sweet palm sugar. (Crushed dried chiles are on the table for diners who want to light it up.) More remarkable is the depth of flavor; the interplay of lemongrass, lime juice, kaffir lime leaves and galangal is what this soup is all about.
Even tried-and-true Pad Thai seems much more elegant and exciting than before. The $14 presentation is gorgeous, with golden rounds of egg perched on the sides and the tamarind- and fish sauce-seasoned noodles piled in the center. On the other side is an abundance of crisp, fresh, soy bean sprouts. Diners can add a bit of nutty crunch by way of crushed peanuts, or amp up the heat with crushed red chile pepper. Like the Tom Yum, the noodles lean slightly to the sweet side, but not unpleasantly so.
There’s a small but well-chosen selection of curries. Of these the deep flavors of the pumpkin curry, available with chicken ($12) or beef ($14), is quite seductive. The “pumpkin” used traditionally is called kabocha. Here in the United States, it would be considered a winter squash. Either way, it goes wonderfully well with Rim Tanon’s complex red curry paste enriched with coconut milk and given additional zing of Thai basil.
It’s safe to say that Rim Tanon isn’t a craft cocktail hub—which is perfectly fine. There are plenty of other restaurants and bars going after that market. The laughable list features ’80s relics like the “Blow Job” (with the clarifying text “Fun Shot” next to it, apparently so people don’t get the wrong idea about what’s being offered). The $5 mix of Frangelico and Bailey’s Irish Cream topped with whipped cream is another old, dirty saw. There are a few dated “martinis” as well—a $10 riff on a chocolate martini named Mr. Rocher with “chocolate vodka, “whipping cream vodka” and “cocoa whip vodka” as well as a $7 sour apple martini. I’m not sure anyone is ready for these saccharine throwbacks to return—now, or ever. The wine list is equally unremarkable, with a handful of common reds, whites and one lonely Riesling. (Chateau Ste. Michelle, if you must know.)
Instead, enjoy the pretty little plates with one of the very palatable non-alcoholic drinks, such as the $4 pressed lemongrass “juice” flavored with pandan leaf (which tastes and smells a bit like a sugar cone) or a $5 fresh young coconut (which naturally includes a snack of silky, mild coconut flesh).
The understated delights of Rim Tanon are many and this modern Thai restaurant is an excellent addition to Upper Kirby. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get overlooked in that little, off-the-main-drag shopping center where Yelapa and Blue Fish House once lived. (Side note: the Houston Press reported that Rim Tanon is a “sister restaurant” to Blue Fish House, as well as Thai Cottage and Time For Thai. One location of Blue Fish House still exists in Sugar Land.)