Lots to like at Livermore’s Lanna Thai

Chrissa Ventrelle
February 12, 2010

Kang Dang curry is seen here at Lanna Thai restaurant in Livermore, CA on Wednesday, February 10, 2010. (Anda Chu/Staff)

A LEISURELY meal at Livermore’s Lanna Thai brought me back to center after an overly hectic day. How fitting. Balance is a central theme of Thai cuisine; it thrives on the interplay among hot, sour, sweet, salty and sometimes even bitter.

Lanna Thai, which opened in October, sits in a strip mall on Las Positas Road. Its design, with a palate of earthy greens and beige hues, fits the mold of other Southeast Asian restaurants that have opened in the East Bay these past few years. It’s a clean look, with just a Thai angel wall hanging and a few other accents to give it a definitive sense of place.

Owner Prakin Gamble says lunch business is particularly brisk. This makes sense. The prices are very competitive and the space buzzes with a daytime energy, even at night. (Simply dimming the lights and adding tablecloths for dinner service would give the room a more elegant vibe).

Experience, personality

Lanna means “one million rice fields” in Thai and is also the name of a province that existed in Northern Thailand from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Gamble hails from Southern Thailand, but her menu incorporates Thailand’s four regional cuisines. Gamble developed the menu based on her previous experience as owner of Kinnaree in Fremont. The menus are similar, but Gamble feels Lanna Thai is a better reflection of her personality.

On my Saturday night visit, a parade of attractive dishes appeared, many garnished with colorful strands of red beets and carrots.

The cigar-shaped Thai Spring Rolls ($5.95) were a promising start, stuffed with cabbage, carrot, celery and bean sprouts. Other appetizers sounded equally enticing, so a good bet may be the House Sampler ($10.95), with crab rangoon, spring rolls, chicken satay and sesame shrimp.

The small order of Tom Kha soup ($6.95) easily could feed a family of four. This spicy and sour soup was the loveliest part of our meal, with straw mushrooms, galanga (an earthy, citrusy root) and tail-on shrimp ($1 extra) flirting in the coconut milk broth. Through the steam came the heavenly scents of lemongrass and kaffir lime. We were on a roll.

Next came Kang Dang ($8.95), a southern-style dish of red curry paste in coconut milk with chicken breast, basil and pineapple. It was a study in layers of flavors, although we would have preferred fresh pineapple over canned.

One dish with potential was the chef’s suggested Crying Tiger Beef ($11.95). Here, the beef was marinated in garlic, cilantro root and lemongrass and then grilled. I wanted to like this dish, but the meat was very sinewy and in pieces too large to manage without a knife. The beef came with sticky rice and a colorful papaya salad with a sharp citrus dressing. Smart diners know to dig in to the accompanying foil package of Northern-style sticky rice right away before it settles into a ball of glutinous starch.

Although we wanted to try several noodle dishes, we felt obligated to order the Pad Thai ($7.95), as somehow it has evolved into the American litmus test for Thai quality. This version tasted ordinary and a was little light on such flavorful pad thai goodies as lime wedges, ground peanuts and egg.

Meat and desserts

Gamble says her Livermore customers are gravitating toward meat these days, particularly the Grilled BBQ Pork ($10.95) with sticky rice and papaya salad. She also points to the Yellow Curried Kang Ka Ree ($8.95), Lemongrass Saute ($7.95) and Spicy Eggplant Saute ($8.95) as customer favorites. All the sautes and curries come with a choice of protein.

Lanna Thai Lunch Customers

Customers Scott Antus, of Lake County, left, and Kevin Stenson, of Concord enjoy a lunch at Lanna Thai restaurant in Livermore, CA on Wednesday, February 10, 2010. (Anda Chu/Staff)

Desserts center mostly around bananas and coconut, although the restaurant seasonally offers Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango ($5.95). The Fried Banana with Coconut Ice Cream ($5.95) tasted particularly tropical and is a fun dessert for kids to try.

On our visit, service started slow, picked up speed, but lagged at the end. Our server was kind and I’d bet her timing will improve.

How wonderful that this city of 75,000 residents now has three Thai restaurants from which to choose, with Lanna Thai’s entrees priced a dollar or two lower than the others. With its convenient location and good food, the restaurant proves that three is not a crowd in Livermore.

Contact Chrissa Ventrelle at cventrel@hotmail.com.