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Koh Samui & The Monkey

October 24, 2006

Koh Samui and the Monkey is an upscale Thai restaurant located South of Market, near Phone Company Ballpark, on the edge of the burgeoning Mission Bay neighborhood. The restaurant’s perplexing name is a reflection of the personal history of the owner Phanthong, and it is explained in detail on Koh Samui’s website.Situated on a rather quiet stretch of South of Market, the boring, blocky warehouse architecture of the area perhaps seems like an odd setting for this restaurant,

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but any worries you might have will evaporate upon setting foot inside:

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The antique-filled interior is well-designed, and it immediately sets a tone that is different from most other Thai restaurants in the city. It is upscale, but not really the least bit hip. On the contrary, it is a pleasing and comfortable environment that combines traditional and modern tastes. To some extent, this is an apt description of Koh Samui’s culinary approach as well.

On our most recent visit, Short Exact and friends started with an appetizer of prawns,

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which were fried in a rice paper covering, and served with a slightly spicy but mostly sweet dipping sauce. The prawns were fresh, and the flavor of the sauce was a good complement to the prawns, but we found the sauce to be too sweet and cloying. In addition, we also ordered the tod mun,

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which are fried fish cakes made with red curry paste. They are served with the nam jim tod mun, the sweet and spicy dipping sauce that typically accompanies tod mun. The sauce, which featured red onion in addition to the traditional cucumber, was delicious when combined with the bite from the red curry in the fish cake. Still, like the dipping sauce for the prawns, we found this sauce to also be a bit too cloying.

For entrees, we ordered the som tum (shredded green papaya salad) and the sen yai rad (koh tao noodles with peanut sauce). The som tum

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was not nearly hot enough (despite a “warning” indication on the menu that it would be hot), but it at least had the nice bright lime backdrop that characterizes this dish, and it featured nice, fresh ingredients. Koh Samui’s rendition was fine and perfectly respectable, but not really remarkable in any way.

Sen yai rad is a term which indicates the use of larger, wide rice noodles with peanut sauce. This was our other entree, and it was garnished with carrots, cucumber, and sesame seeds, all served on a bed of bok choy. One can order this entree with either chicken or tofu, and we chose tofu:

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This dish was positively smothered in what is really a rather basic, uninteresting, and completely unnuanced peanut sauce, so much so that after a little while it became almost sickening. The tofu retained no individual character, and was completely flavorless (other than the peanut sauce). Moreover, it was completely dry and solid as a brick: we had to exert considerable pressure to crack open these tofu pieces, so that our teeth began to hurt after awhile. This was a disappointing dish: no complex palette of flavors here, because the average, unremarkable peanut sauce dominated, through and through. The best part of the dish (and the only part we finished) was the bok choy, which was actually cooked perfectly.

To be honest, were we to rate this restaurant on food alone, we very well might have settled on a 2.5-star rating, rather than the 3-star rating we ultimately decided upon. The food here is serviceable, but it is not outstanding. Even Koh Samui’s allegedly “hot” dishes end up not being really all that hot, and Koh Samui’s technique overwhelmingly accommodates unadventurous American palates. Flavors that ought to have been more complex and nuanced end up being overly sweet and monolithic. At these prices, which are noticeably higher than most Thai restaurants in the city, we were hoping to be more impressed with the preparations than we were.

To be fair, though, it is important to recognize Koh Samui’s strong points as well. Even if the presentations lack subtlety, they feature decent ingredients and are generally presented well on the plate. In addition, eating at Koh Samui is, overall, a pleasant dining experience. The service is prompt and helpful (if not gushing), and the restaurant, which gets a lot of natural light, is simply a nice place to be, with a casual and comfortable atmosphere.

Even from the culinary perspective, we believe that some people will probably be more satisfied with Koh Samui than we were. Koh Samui’s cuisine is Westernized, but many people are looking for exactly that when choosing a Thai restaurant, perhaps seeking more comforting fare over less familiar but more traditional items. Koh Samui, with dishes such as “peanut sauce lover’s salad”, will not disappoint in this respect. While this style is not Short Exact’s cup of tea, we can appreciate that many people are searching for exactly these sorts of dishes to satisfy their personal Thai cravings. If you share our tastes, you might want to skip over Koh Samui, but if you are in the area and you drop in, you will probably get a good meal of at least decent Thai food, served in comfortably upscale surroundings.

RATING:

COST:

415 Brannan Street (at Ritch St., between 3rd St. and 4th St.)
San Francisco, CA 94107
Phone: 415.369.0007
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm; Sun-Thurs, 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm; Fri-Sat, 5:00 pm – 10:30 pm.

Cuisine: Thai
Neighborhood: South of Market

How to get there: Koh Samui & The Monkey is located 2 long blocks from the Caltrain depot at 4th and King streets. The restaurant is within reasonable walking distance of Muni lines 9X, 10, 12, 30, 45, 47, 76, and T.

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One comment

  1. Mmmm. looks mighty tasty!



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