More often than not, dishes with meat at Thai joints sound better on the menu than they actually are. Once, I wanted to impress a friend with what I thought at the time was the best hole-in-the-wall Thai food in town. What we experienced was an off day so bad that I vowed never to eat meat from the place again. I was horrified when my pal politely scraped the remaining mystery matter into a container, saying that he'd feed it to his dogs. To poke at my already bruised ego, he sent me a text hours later reporting that not even the pups would eat it.
So, yeah, what's the point of ordering chicken, pork, beef or duck if what you're really after is that full-bodied curry flavor? Who cares about having meat in the ubiquitous "spicy basil" stir-fry? For me, it's about indulging in fresh vegetables that I normally wouldn't buy, and exotic spice blends that take too much patience to master at home.
For the first time in history, a meat-free restaurant has me all riled up. Plumeria Vegetarian (4661 Park Blvd. in University Heights) uses all-organic produce—and they don't cook it beyond recognition, either. It has that mock-meat stuff, too, and boasts an entirely GMO-free menu with entrées sizable enough to split.
Su-mei Yu of Saffron fame—the gateway Thai place for many San Diegans—should take some notes, because she's gotten skimpy with her food, right on down to the friggin' rice.
Plumeria replaced a Euro deli that had an afterthought dining room off to one side. With a few nice touches, the drab space has been transformed into one that's comfy, albeit girly—lavender walls, flowery art and sparkly chandeliers. Seating is cozy, so it's not the best place to talk mad shit over dinner; in fact, even though the place is often full of people, it's not loud and has a tranquil vibe to it.
Three dollars for a Thai iced tea is good, but when it came to the table in what looked like a beer stein, it became great. I had to take more than half of it home with me.
The red curry—with veggies only—doesn't smother the bell pepper, carrot, zucchini, broccoli and eggplant. Instead, the basil-heavy, light broth puts still-snappy vegetables center stage. However, on my last visit, eggplant was the sad, soggy exception—a big-time bummer and departure from the time before.
You get a choice of white or brown rice (at no extra cost), and then comes deciding on a heat level. To give you an idea of how hot Plumeria likes it, they have a scale of 3 to 10, with a 10 that can possibly blow your head and pants off. The noodle dishes kick ass; the spicy noodles and see-ew have that smoky-wok flavor, and egg is optional at no extra cost. Thank you!
Su-mei Yu can certainly be credited for introducing us to a healthy-Thai-food concept at Saffron, but with this new kid on the block, she'd better watch her back. Plumeria's service, food, portions and ambiance are the better deal.