May 24-30, 2006

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First Bite

Thai Hut Valley

By Michael Shapiro

"Our meat walks outside and woks inside" read the inscription above the specials menu at Thai Hut Valley. Billing itself as an organic alternative for Thai food lovers, the Cotati restaurant says it serves "organic meat, produce and olive oil" using Rocky Jr. chickens, Snake River Farms Kobe beef and Kurobuta pork sirloin. A glance at the menu left me with two questions: first, would the food be good; and second, how do they serve organic meat and veggie entries for around $8?

So on a recent Monday night, a friend and I stopped in for dinner. The restaurant is on Highway 116, in the center just west of 101 amid a billiards parlor and an aquarium selling fish and small reptiles (it's worth a visit just to see the giant catfish).

Entering Thai Hut Valley, which opened last year, we were greeted by a goddess statue and a friendly Thai waitress. We started with the tom kha gai ($7.95) a chicken and coconut milk soup that can be a bellwether for the rest of the meal. The soup was rich, and the flavors of lemongrass and kafir lime shone through. I'd have preferred a bit more galanga (Thai ginger), but many Thai restaurants take it easy on the spices to protect the gentle palates of us falangs (foreigners).

The service was a bit slower than the typical Thai restaurant, but, hey, organic Thai food seemed worth the wait. The mains were good but uneven. We enjoyed a plate of pat si lu ($6.95), rice noodles with broccoli and bits of scrambled egg with chicken (you can also get this with pork or beef). The prik king kai ($7.95), described as chicken with green beans in a spicy ginger sauce, arrived without any green beans. The flavor was nice, but the greenest veggie in the dish was a green onion stalk. When I asked if this was the prik king, the waitress smiled and said yes. I didn't pursue it.

On another visit I tried the tom yum soup ($7.95) and duck and spinach in peanut sauce ($8.95). Both were excellent.

Which leads to the second question: how does Thai Hut serve organics so cheaply? While there I peeked into the kitchen and did see a crate of broccoli labeled organic. (I'm still just a bit skeptical and would have asked for a quick tour of the kitchen, but food-service laws don't allow that.) On the way out, I asked how they do it, and the waitress said they're going to bring the prices up soon. So you better get there fast.

Thai Hut Valley, 8492 Gravenstein Hwy., Cotati. Open for lunch and dinner, Monday-Saturday, 11am to 9pm. 707.665.0186.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.