Tom and Mimi Khamvongsa were trained in the classical culinary art of their native Thailand. They cooked for some wigs big enough to demand the best quality food ? high-ranking politicians, wealthy businesspeople. And then, in a brilliant stroke of fate, for us as well as them, they moved to Sonoma County more than a decade ago.
They often return to Thailand, sampling dishes there and bringing back techniques and ideas to Tomi Thai, their restaurant in Windsor. The name Tomi is a conflation of Tom and Mimi. The food they prepare is exquisite. Within the first few bites, you realize they know exactly how to balance ingredients with Thai herbs and spices to create flavor harmonies. The ingredients are impossibly fresh and clean-tasting. They take no shortcuts, making almost everything from scratch. They prepare their spices and curries themselves.
For instance, Pork Green Curry ($8.95 ****) is based on a homemade green curry paste. To prepare the paste, they pound together fresh spicy-hot chiles, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime, coriander root, peppercorns, roasted coriander and cumin seeds, salt and shrimp paste. Once the green curry paste is made, they mix it into coconut milk to make a light green soupy liquid, then add little pieces of tender pork, more green chiles, sliced bamboo shoots, zucchini, green beans, slices of green and yellow bell peppers, and basil.
The result is an astonishingly good curry ? not just because all those good veggies and a little pork are tossed together, but because it all shows proportion. Proportion in the amount of ingredients used to make the curry paste, and proportion in the amount of paste used in the coconut milk, and the proportions of the vegetables and meat in relationship to the liquid curry. It would be so easy to throw the dish out of whack by overemphasizing one ingredient, but that doesn?t happen.
Here?s the kicker: Everything they serve shows the same unerring proportionality. The Khamvongsas have learned their classic cooking well, and the love and passion they put into doing things properly comes through strongly in the food.
Tomi Thai is in the space formerly occupied by the late and lamented Odyssey, where the food was also exceptional, and the d?or has remained pretty much the same. Six stools still face the counter, which glows with light from within. The big screen projection TV is still there, showing ? on a recent night ? a B movie whose story seemed to be taking place both in medieval times and in the present day. It was hard to tell as the sound was turned down to a low mumble.
You can tell a lot about a Thai restaurant by its peanut sauce. This iconic condiment is often poorly made, lacking in flavor or with a texture too thick and gritty. The peanut sauce served at Tomi Thai is, in all its many manifestations, perfect. Mixed with plum sauce, it is the dip for Fresh Spring Rolls ($7.50 ****). Three rolls are cut in half to make six pieces. Each piece consists of soft rice paper wrapping up lettuce, noodles, cucumbers, mint, cilantro, onions, and shrimp. It?s hard to imagine how they could be better. Fancier? Maybe. More elaborate? OK. But not better. They crunch, and the mint-cucumber-cilantro combination is like a fresh breeze on a cool, sunny day.