Mai Tai is trying to change longtime habits about eating out in Boise. The restaurant is super trendy. To put it somewhat bluntly, the décor reeks of money—tasteful lighting, interesting paintings, and a very cool waterfall make it feel, well, foreign to this locale. The restaurant could just as easily have been in L.A. or Seattle (not coincidentally the places where the owners hail from). It is posh in all the right ways. The waitresses are cute and slightly aloof (though that could have been because they were busy all night), the cocktails are inventive and the sleek menu is utterly different than other Thai restaurants here. Forget your stereotype of "ethnic" restaurants and think of Mai Tai as being in the same class as Red Feather Lounge and The Milky Way. A place to see and be seen—where image is as important as the food itself.
Well, perhaps that's an ideal. When I ate at Mai Tai recently on a Friday night, some people were dressed up to go out, but others were wearing sweats or whatever they wore to work. The restaurant tries hard to project a big-city image, but Boise is still not a big city. Maybe all of our new trendy hotspots will change this, but I have a feeling that we're a little slow to change.
Even if we're not obsessed with being trendy, Boiseans are obsessed with Thai food. I am not sure how many Thai restaurants our city can support, but Mai Tai easily sets itself apart from the rest. The food was really exciting and everything was elegantly presented. Far from having just the same offerings as your neighborhood Thai place, Mai Tai featured things I haven't seen elsewhere, like Boba tea. I drank this a lot in China and have missed it terribly. It's a milky tea with large tapioca balls in the bottom. They're somewhat gelatinous balls that you suck up and (I at least) swallow whole. (I know it sounds odd, but it's tasty and fun.) I highly recommend the tea.
After sipping our cocktails flavored with fruit juice-infused Triple Sec (yummy), we pounced on our appetizers. Our shrimp balls on lemongrass stalks were a nice change from the spring rolls we usually sample at Thai restaurants. Although they were a little bland for my taste, the blandness was made up for by the accompanying spicy dipping sauce. After gobbling them down, I enjoyed sucking on the lemongrass stalks. Refreshing. My date greatly enjoyed his green papaya salad. When unripe, papaya is very mild, and makes a good base for other flavors. In their version of this classic Thai dish, the papaya was shredded and tossed with other veggies and a flavorful sauce. The salad was beautiful as well as delicious. Served in a bowl made of lettuce leaves, it was garnished with perfect raw green beans that provided a nice textural contrast.
Since we were nearly stuffed after the cocktails and appetizers, we decided to share an order of ginger duck. I am a duck addict and don't have the opportunity to eat it often, so I tend to have high expectations. Mai Tai didn't let me down. The duck was cut into nice, edible boneless pieces and tossed with thin strips of ginger and fresh vegetables. The light brown sauce tied the flavors together without overpowering them.
Thai food at its best is light, with a focus on fresh ingredients. Mai Tai is, no matter what clothes you wear, a great place to be this summer.
—Jenny Hurst sometimes uses pate as a face scrub.