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Tom Yum Goong
There's a certain level of expectation you build when a restaurant's owner tells you they delayed opening until they had all the necessary herbs growing in their garden.  That electric feeling of anticipation was just what I got when we first talked to Thai Fusion Cafe's genial owner, Don Reyes.  Thai cuisine's unique flavor is built on a selection of fresh, aromatic herbs, so when a restaurateur tells you they grow their own, you know they're honestly passionate about their food.

Cat and I finally got to try Thai Fusion Cafe, and I'm glad to report that my expectations were met.  No, more than that -- they were totally bowled over!  Put it this way:  If ever a typhoon catches you in here and Aguirre floods, you can just imagine that you're in Bangkok eating at this secret locals' place beside a klong.  That's how I felt after sampling four of Thai Fusion Cafe's dishes -- Tom Yum Goong, Red Chicken Curry, Pad Thai, and Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork.  There's an elusive quality that just tells you a real Thai hand is behind a Thai dish--the balance of flavors, the bright freshness of the herbs and ingredients, the respect  with which they treat the food.  Not surprisingly, Don's secret weapon is his wife Patty, a Thai he met while working abroad.

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Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork
Thai Fusion Cafe, Don says, was five whole years in development:  research, recipe testing, business studies; and yes, making sure their backyard herb garden could supply enough for a restaurant.  Despite, or perhaps because of all that research, Thai Fusion Cafe has a very down-to-earth approach that lets you know this is a Thai place, while making you feel very much at home. 

The interior of their new location, along Aguirre beside Arti's Boutique (the former site of Chi's) and near the Rodeo Spa, is simply yet tastefully done, with an atrium for al fresco dining that should be very inviting on clear December evenings.  Subtle clues to the identity of the chef can be found in the decor -- not the mass-produced  tapestries or paintings you'll find in Bangkok's tourist bazaars, but modern prints of signature Thai things such as kickboxing, temples, and portraits of the Thai royal family. 

Then there's the earnest tagline Don uses to market his food--not 'authentic Thai', but 'home-cooked Thai cuisine.'  Don's a great believer in letting the customer discover the quality of Thai Fusion Cafe as a delightful surprise and gratifying experience, a refreshing approach to branding compared to the hard-sell variety.  He's even humble enough to warn that they can't always have everything available, or always produce a dish the same way all the time.  That's why he's in no hurry to branch out even with offers on hand; to him quality, not quantity, is paramount and comes first.

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Thai Milk Tea (Jumbo size)
Don had already revealed his aces -- herb garden, Thai wife -- when he asked how spicy I wanted my food, with a mischievous twinkle.  I asked for their normal level of heat, and immediately got insurance by ordering some Thai Milk Tea; I knew I'd need it!  Sure enough, Cat and I got the works!  Even at mild levels Cat's eyes were going wide as she ate her Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork.  Me, spice addict that I am, I think I was pounding the table with joy over my Penang Curry. 

First impression: these fresh, bright flavors are really possible only when you've got fresh Thai herbs to use, and the cook really knows what she's doing!  The rich coconut milk sauce was smooth, creamy, shot through with sparks of unique flavor from the Thai basil and other fresh herbs in it.  As for the chili level, as expected, their normal is a cut above what you might expect from Malay or Indonesian; which in turn is a cut stronger than North Indian, what I'm most used to.  That Thai Milk Tea was indispensable!  I had the curry with white rice, as per Don's advice, so I could enjoy the sauce's flavor to its fullest.
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Red Chicken Curry (Penang)
Same thing with the Tom Yum Goong, our usual benchmark for the quality of a Thai restaurant.  It was a bright, complex interplay of herbs and contrasting flavors -- sweet, sour, salty, hot, savory -- and capped by the sweet light texture of very fresh prawns.  Now, I'm allergic to crustaceans; the older the stock, the stronger its effect on me.  My allergies remained quiet during and even after our meal, despite the soup having several split prawn heads in it for flavor.  Conclusion: those prawns were still swimming a day or two ago.  This guess was borne out by Don's assuring us that he's very meticulous about freshness, keeping only three days' worth of stock on hand at any time. 

Cat was amazed by the complex balance of the soup, quite unlike the Tom Yums in her memory bank.  Don speculates that may be because, left to their own devices, Filipino cooks tend to gravitate to the familiar flavor of sinigang and make their Tom Yum closer to our local soup by using less coconut milk and a much more conservative use of herbs. It was a gamble, he says, to introduce his wife's Tom Yum Goong because the Filipino market might already have been used to a modified, Filipinized version of Tom Yum.  Me, I think that's a gamble Thai Fusion Cafe is going to win.

A note to the less adventurous -- Don stressed the importance of enjoying these dishes the Thai way.  Many Thai offerings, such as the Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork, have their flavors balanced in such a way that not eating everything on your plate will totally alter your experience.  Under his guidance, Cat tossed the sweet stir-fried pork, scrambled egg, mango strips, chilis, chopped string beans and shallots into her rice, and immediately she tasted the difference.  I tried it too, and yes, the flavors now came together like a harmonious gamelan symphony. Then we both grabbed our Milk Teas!  I'm not sure if the chef was using Thai birdseye chilies or our siling labuyo, but a mere teaspoonful of the stuff is mighty powerful.  One reason why the condiments are grouped apart on your plate, aside from the presentation's appeal, is so you can mix as much or as little of each as you want  (although he says another reason for the compartmentalized presentation is that some customers may be allergic to some ingredients).

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Pad Thai
The Pad Thai arrived last, when we were already starting to feel full. That we left not even a single bean sprout, noodle or speck of ground peanut surviving on that plate should tell you how we found it!  Don's recommended way of eating Pad Thai is to pair it with their Papaya Salad or with Satay, either chicken or pork.  Pad Thai has become a favorite of some regulars' children, he says; maybe this is a good way to trick kids into eating their vegetables?  It's also one totally non-spicy dish, so you've a fallback order if any of your friends or family are averse to chilies.

Thai Fusion Cafe was recommended to us by our friend Sheila Amora, owner of Funky Plum.  She was so eager to have Good Living BF feature this restaurant, she even followed up a few days after texting us her recommendation.  Now we know why.  Had my mom been born Thai, I think this is how she'd have cooked.  Honest, unpretentious, yet lovingly dedicated to quality.  This is the real stuff! 

You may also want to try their other bestsellers:  Chicken Pandan, Thai Toast, (Fried) Glass Noodle Spring Rolls, Pork or Chicken Satay, and the Papaya Salad.

Thai Fusion Cafe

morea davis
9/16/2011

have eaten there about 5 times now and the food is great! they have the best tom ka soup. can definitely recommend the restaurant :)

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kitty g
9/26/2011

my boyfriend and I ate here but back when they were still in Lopez st, Owner is very nice and accommodating. I cant wait to try their red and green thai curry again, its really yummmy. My bf loves Their thai version of bagoong or something like that. Would recommend this place to others who want to try something different aside from the usual korean/japanese restaurant in aguirre. Nice blog btw, bookmarked!

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Cathy - Good Living BF
9/27/2011

Thanks, Kitty G! Glad you like our blog. Same here, can't wait to go back there for my Tom Yum fix :)

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riverfan
10/18/2011

having a hard time finding this place, is it beside Rodeo Spa (right side coming from presidents ave/ elizalde)? Are there any other land marks? thanks.

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Cathy - Good Living BF
10/18/2011

Hi riverfan! If you're coming from Elizalde, Thai Fusion Cafe is before Rodeo Spa. Diagonally across it is Dolor's Kakanin and its entrance is beside a black spiral staircase facing Aguirre. Beside the restaurant is Arti's Boutique, which has a big vertical signage. Hope this helps!

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