I noticed Papaya Thai Cuisine right about when it opened and looked forward to try it. Last Friday night I finally made it out there to see what it was all about. I arrived with my friends Anne and Justin at about 7:45PM, a little over an hour before closing. There were just a few people in the medium sized dining room and a family showed up right as we did. The one server working the dining room told us to sit anywhere we liked. There were a handful of 4-seater tables in the center with booths along the left and right walls and tables with booth/bench seating on one side and chairs on the other along the front wall, which is where we sat. There is also a counter/bar at the back with a few seats.
It is lightly decorated with little sculptures here and there and some hanging art. A small TV up above the bar was showing some scenes from Thailand and what I assume was Thai music was playing lightly in the restaurant. We ordered our drinks right away. Both Justin and I ordered Cokes, but as the server started to walk away I had a sudden change of mind because I feared they might be the type of place (as many of Asian restaurants seem to be around here) that serves cans at $1.50 each, so I called out to her and changed it to a Thai iced tea, which Anne had also ordered. Sure enough Justin’s Coke arrived in a can and he was a little annoyed, but more on this later. The iced teas arrived un-mixed (obligatory youtube video by yours truly). Mine was quite strong and was one of the boldest flavored Thai iced teas I’ve had for sure.
We ordered a couple appetizers, crab cheese puffs (house special cream cheese with onion and crab meat served with our sweet & sour sauce) and Thai fresh spring rolls (rice paper stuffed with cilantro, bean thread noodle, lettuce, cucumber, and carrots served with peanut sauce and sweet & sour). Both of these came out fairly quickly. The crab cheese puffs were quite similar to the crab cheese wontons you might find at some Chinese restaurants, but in a slightly different form. They were served with the hot sweet & sour sauce that seems to come with so many Thai appetizers. The coloring was very bright and neon orange, I’d love to put it under a UV light to see what it looks like. I dipped a little bit in it, and it was quite sweet with a bit of a kick. These were really good, and I’d order them again. The spring rolls came out as 4 large rolls, served with the same sweet & sour sauce as well as peanut sauce. These were much bigger than spring rolls I’ve had elsewhere. I found them to be a bit denser as well, maybe as a result of ever slightly larger sliced ingredients inside? While they were pretty good, I think I prefer smaller rolls simply due to the ratio of rice paper to filling ingredients being better in my opinion, I just like the texture of that a lot more.
Around the time we ordered, Justin had finished his Coke and was planning on getting a water if it was going to be another 1.50 a can. When he asked about that I was really surprised that “refills” turned out to be free, and she brought out a new can and glass of ice right away. I had my heart set on the duck curry (spicy Thai red curry with sliced duck, coconut milk, pineapple, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower and basil leaves) as soon as I had seen they offered it. Justin surprised me when he ordered green curry, but instead of taking more time to find something else, I just went ahead and got the duck as well even if it was a bit redundant. Anne picked drunken noodles (stir fried wide rice noodles with wine, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, chili, garlic, and basil leaves) and subbed in tofu instead of the chicken/beef/pork options.
The food took around 15 minutes to prepare and be brought out. The first thing that struck me was how HUGE the curries were. They might have been about twice as big as I’ve seen at other restaurants for about the same price. The other thing I noticed was that the color of the duck curry looked much more subdued than elsewhere. Normally the red curry it’s in would be a bright red/orange color, but this one was more of a light orange with some pink to it. I scooped some rice onto my plate from the very hot little bowl it came in and then did half duck, half green over it (separate, not together) The duck was cubed, which I haven’t seen before, but the flavor of the dark and oily chunks was just as I was expecting. To my delight many of the pieces had the skin still on. So the duck was excellent, but the curry itself was…off I guess. I have been having a really hard time pinning down what was different about this red curry than every other one I’ve ever had, but it was definitely different. I had the leftovers of it today for lunch and I’m still unable to figure it out. It wasn’t bad, I think the flavor was a bit lighter though much like the color was. Perhaps it was diluted somehow, which may also explain the larger portion. It definitely had a spice to it that didn’t necessarily hit you right away, but lingered for a while after a bite. The green curry was generally good, though I think it had the same issue with being a bit lighter than elsewhere. Chicken pieces in it were scarce.
The drunken noodles are made up of wide rice noodles, which are also used in my favorite Thai dish – Pad See Ew. There are only a couple places that I’ve been disappointed in the preparation of these noodles, and unfortunately Papaya is now on that short list. My biggest annoyance with them is when they are clumped together and the middle pieces are flavorless and a bit chewier, having not spent time in the wok directly mingling with the sauces. I found the overall flavor of this dish to be ok. The tofu was fine. Anne had mentioned something about the flavor of the sauce not being as good as she would have liked.
Overall I was a little disappointed with Papaya. I thought the appetizers were better than the entrees. The service however was great. Our server, despite being the only one, was constantly checking on us for refills, etc. and was very nice all around. I never felt like I was waiting for her to come back because I needed something. She prepped the curries to go and got extra rice to go with each. It’s not a bad Thai place, but I feel we definitely have better ones here in Roseville.