Exploring the dining scene in my hometown is quite fun. But it's a job that takes some juggling. Sometimes my plans for exploring new and exciting dining spots go awry; instead of sharing the experience with friends (paying their own way, of course) or even blissfully dining alone with a good book, more often than not my dining companion is my post-flu-shot, mid-tantrum toddler. So much for being Ruth Reichl in elaborate disguises.
Although my almost-2-year-old is a perfect child who never misbehaves or picks up food from restaurant floors and puts it in her mouth before I notice, you may be surprised to learn she's not entirely an optimal dining companion. With rare exceptions, my husband and friends don't generally shout things like "Poop!" in crowded restaurants.
But this sometimes-frazzled method of eatery investigation occasionally allows for unexpected and special moments, reminding me that food is about connection, memory and sharing time with others. I had one of those experiences eating Thai food at Rim Talay in Oceanside.
I rolled into Rim Talay (508 Mission Ave) laden with bags: my purse, the diaper bag, my bulky camera that I try to keep hidden (I review anonymously, after all). I was happy to see the dining room was sparsely populated this particular afternoon, enough so that the inevitable noise and mess made by my clumsy companion wouldn't ruin too many lunches.
This is a tiny little place that I've passed dozens of times. We were warmly welcomed, and despite the initial wary glance one generally gets when bringing in a toddler, the staff quickly began to charm and delight little Miss Stranger Danger as I checked out the food.
There are no surprises on the menu; this is tasty, accessible Thai food. The green papaya salad is a crunchy, spicy way to start a meal. I could do without the mushy, out-of-season tomatoes, but the rest of the salad was a refreshing balance of sweet and sour.
Keeping with the green theme, I dived into a bowl of green curry. The stew was creamy and layered, with just enough heat to warm my fingertips on a cloudy day near the ocean.
I have a thing for phad see-ew . I can't get enough of the starchy, borderline-gummy flat noodles. I'll shovel them into my mouth even when I'm an old lady with no teeth. Rim Talay's version is familiar and comforting—piping hot, with tender bits of chicken (or another protein of your choice) and bright, blanched vegetables.
My hungry, little child surprised me that day. I watched her shovel bits of crunchy broccoli into her mouth, her aversion to anything green suddenly gone. She was unfazed by the spice in the papaya salad, and she quickly learned to say "Papaya!" to the delight of Rim Talay's staff.
I expected to feel impatient. I expected a lot of Cheerios on the floor and a bad attitude from everyone by the time the meal was over. Instead, I learned my little one just might be a foodie in the making. And, at the very least, we shared a happy and delicious meal.