Not long ago, two of us had a yen for sushi. Our thoughts went to Pacific Beach's Sushi Ota, on Mission Bay Drive at Balboa Avenue, and off we went without a reservation. To our surprise, on the warm Wednesday night, Ota, at 8 p.m., had a wait of more than an hour. With our stomachs growling, we opted out of sushi and into a quiet Thai oasis, Lanna Thai, one door away from Ota in the same 7-Eleven strip mall. The moment we entered, we appreciated the air of calm in the classic and tastefully decorated and windowed corner room.
Much of the menu reflects the traditional dishes of the cuisine while a couple other dishes seem to play to American tastes. My palate loved the judicious use of the salty fish sauce, nam pla (similar to soy sauce only made with anchovies), and most of the food I tried was well balanced in flavor with fresh basil, chilies, lemongrass and other recognizable Thai flavors.
For appetizers we chose Lanna's Platter, which included two each of fried spring rolls, fresh salad rolls with shrimp and vegetables in a rice paper wrapper, a moist chicken satay with cucumber dip and a zippy peanut sauce, tiny crisp cups filled with curried chicken and vegetables, and golden triangles of fried flour tortillas very lightly filled with chicken and potato. All were good, though I found the flour tortilla triangles a bit puzzling-not a traditional Thai ingredient-and they lacked a discernable filling. We used them, though, to sop up the tasty sweet and sour sauce.
A rich, yet light (not watery) tom kha soup had all the traditional tastes-coconut milk, lemongrass and galanga (similar to fresh ginger). Mushrooms, chicken and small bits of fresh tomato made it one of our favorites for the night. A friend of mine orders it to go for the perfect hangover antidote.
Larb salad of minced chicken with chili lime sauce, mint leaves and bit of ground roasted rice hit our salad spot quite nicely. Many times I find restaurants lean too heavily on fish sauce in this dish, but here all the elements work.
One specialty is tropical duck. It comes with a leg and thigh and some breast meat perfectly crisp and not greasy. Resting in a colorful collage of pineapple and mango chunks punctuated with onion and bell pepper, this barely sweet sauce makes a terrific complement for the moist duck.
We loved the service-our server brought us three tastes of white wines when we couldn't decide what to drink with our meal, changed our silverware and plates with the various dishes and was helpful in our menu selections.
On another occasion I tried the well-known Thai mainstay of pad thai (pan-fried rice noodles, chicken, bits of egg, bean sprouts and crushed peanuts). Here this dish caters to American tastes. For me it was bland and I missed the Thai ingredients of dried shrimp and a dose of lime or vinegar that make the dish distinctive. A truer-flavored eggplant with beef hit the spot with fresh basil, sliced carrots, bell peppers and onions in a soybean chili sauce.
Finish your meal with the very Thai dessert of fresh ripe mango and sticky rice-not too sweet from coconut milk used to cook the rice. Prices range from $4 to $12 with some of the specialties at $14 or more for fish dishes. Open daily. 4501 Mission Bay Drive, Pacific Beach, 858-274-8424, www.lannathaicuisine.com.
Downtown has yet another breakfast choice, Richard Walker's Pancake House in the Pinnacle building on Front and Market streets, next to the future Children's Museum. This is the place for solid Midwest breakfasts and a few lunch items (they close at 2:30 p.m.). The restaurant seats 30 outside on Front Street and another 50 inside a compact room. The contemporary design, high ceiling, wood trim and tall windows that face the street give the place a comfortable, open feeling. You'll find a menu filled with omelets, waffles and pancakes, as well as some unusual griddle cakes with buckwheat, wheat germ or potato.
I opted for a substantial veggie omelet with chopped tomatoes, sliced mushrooms and broccoli flowerets. The omelet was light and fluffy, cooked to a golden brown from a quick finish in the oven. A choice of cheese (Swiss, cheddar or jalapeño) melded with, yet didn't overpower, the vegetables. Even better is the choice of toast or pancakes, and in a pancake house, why not choose these? The three are light, flavorful and a happy respite from the usual side of potatoes found at many breakfast joints. There's good Boyd coffee-though my coffee cup was empty each time before being refilled-but service overall was efficient and cordial. Open daily from 6:30 a.m. 520 Front St., Downtown, 619-231-7777, www.richardwalkers.com/san_diego.
Breakfast mavens in the Point Loma/Midway area now have a new place for eggs, tortillas and more. Naked Café of Solana Beach just opened in the Rubio's shopping center at Rosecrans and Midway. I've not tried it yet.
Arterra's executive sous-chef, Brian Pekarcik, slides into the chef de cuisine spot vacated by Carl Schroeder. Pastry chef Jack Fisher takes his flour from Nine-Ten to the new and not yet open Addison at The Grand Del Mar resort hotel. Write to marcie[at]5dollarchef[dot]com and editor[at]sdcitybeat[dot]com