Published August 15. 2013 4:00AM Updated August 16. 2013 5:33PM
What's in a name? It doesn't really matter, because any place that turns out food as wonderful as 4 Roosevelt Asian Bistro can call itself any darn thing it pleases as long as its chefs keep doing what they're doing.
At the moment, the Thai fusion restaurant next to Mystic's train station is still called 4 Roosevelt Asian Bistro. When new management took over, it challenged customers to come up with a new name for the bistro. The winning name, Rice, has yet to be applied to the storefront, menus and Facebook page, so for these purposes, we'll stick with the working name of 4 Roosevelt.
I knew I was in for a treat when I took a look at 4 Roosevelt's menu online and immediately selected no less than a dozen things I wanted to sample. Where do you start when you've got pho, curries, noodles, sautees and apps, apps, apps from which to choose?
We went for basics first; when I crave Thai/Vietnamese foods I think soup, so we made a meal of Tom Kha ($6), the Vietnamese classic soup pho, with chicken ($8), and a papaya salad ($9). For the sake of science and adventure, I added an order of Lad Na, simply because I had to know what the "soy gravy" in this dish, as noted on the menu, was all about.
We'll start with the bliss-inducing papaya salad. A cold salad becomes a whole new food item when it's tossed with a super-zesty lime viniagrette. And by "super-zesty," I mean quite spicy, so while the spice-cautious should take note, it would be a shame to miss out on this fabulous, flavor-riot of a dish. The spicy dressing blends beautifully with the salad's signature julienned green papaya, which also works to cool down the heat, one crunch at a time. Grape tomatoes, greens and ground peanut combine to add nuanced texture and great flavor. Highly recommended.
As for the soups, with proper sauce/basil/beansprout tinkering, the pho became a light-as-air soul quencher of enjoyable textures in harmony. It was more crisp and clean tasting than any pho I've had before, almost like a salad with the added benefit of smooth, light broth and rice noodles.
The Tom Kha - coconut broth with sliced chicken, mushrooms, and galanga (a ginger relative) - was as smooth as silk. The pop of flavor from the galanga was the perfect addition to a dish that can become too rich for poor palettes like mine. I'm no mushroom fan, but even I liked the mushrooms within.
And thanks to the Lad Na ($13), we now have another go-to Thai menu item (read: something to order other than Pad Thai and Pad Si Yu). According to the menu, Lad Na is the national dish of Thailand, composed of wide rice noodles and Chinese broccoli cooked in soy gravy. We ordered ours with pork (chicken and beef are other options) and we absolutely loved it. The best term we could come up with to describe the overall flavor was "silky fire-roasty." The gravy - another smooth, tasty base but very, very bright in flavor - tasted of green peppers and lime. The thick, toothy noodles were the ultimate vehicle for the gravy, and thinly sliced pork kept the whole thing from getting too starchy.
On another visit we managed to knock out a few more dishes that made the initial "must-eat" list. This time we started with the Summer Rolls ($6) appetizer, and once again we had a winner. Served with a delicious carrot sauce, 4 Roosevelt's summer rolls are vegetables, tofu, basil and vermicelli rolled in rice paper. They are crisp, they are refreshing, and they are beautiful to behold. Nice and light, the rolls provide a fun way to kick off a meal with room to spare.
For dinner, we selected two main dishes: the Panang Curry ($15) - mild coconut curry with peanuts and kaffir lime leaves - with shrimp and the Lemongrass Pork. While three other curry sauces are available, and accompanying "proteins," as the menu calls them, include pork, veggie, sliced flank steak, calamari and duck among others, we were more than pleased with our selection, which came served with perfectly prepared jasmine rice. We agreed that we could probably eat the curry every day if we had to, with its smooth broth, crispy peppers, invigorating lime accent and wonderful heat. Shrimp were plentiful and a great partner to the curry sauce, which, we also agreed could cure what ails just about anybody.
The Lemongrass Pork ($18) came with a lovely green side salad, dressed in a light, slightly creamy dressing that enhanced the flavor of the veggies. This generous portion of grilled, marinated pork rocked my husband's world and got an OK from me. I must note that the pork was expertly grilled and seasoned; I think it just paled in comparison to all the other outstanding dishes we had already sampled. The dipping sauce that came with the pork actually impressed me more. We truly couldn't identify what the prevailing flavor in it was, but it was tangy, citrus-y and very bright.
With at least a half dozen more items to try on our list, we will happily head back to 4 Roosevelt Asian Bistro/Rice, this time with friends in tow, so we can try even more wonderful things. We are certain we won't be disappointed.