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.
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.
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.
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).
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.