Dining Out

The Far East in the East Bay

Fine Thai cuisine in Barrington

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Right at the end of a stretch of shops on County Road in Barrington is a building behind Ace Hardware where you’ll find Tong-D, serving fine Thai cuisine. A group of us converged on the restaurant one wintery Thursday night, ordering up a large selection of plates to eat family style, to find out what a restaurant in this unassuming building had to offer.

The outside may have been part of a shopping center, but the interior was very inviting. You enter to a full bar which then leads into the dining room, which was set with beautiful dark wood tables and chairs. Everyone in our group remarked at how nice the tables and chairs were, almost preferable to white tablecloths, especially since it was such a relaxed environment. There is some Asian artwork on the walls and a pretty glass chandelier-like fixture in the center of the room, but otherwise the dark wood was the focal point.

As mentioned, there is a full bar with a cocktail list containing the usual suspects. There is also a short list of wines by the glass. Our server mentioned they are adding more, as it’s proving popular. We began with four of their starters and a soup. There was the Leek Spring Roll ($5) filled with leek, cabbage and glass noodle with guava vinaigrette; the Glazed Wing ($5) coated with sweet tamarind; the Scallion Pancake ($5) with peanut butter cream dipping sauce; the Steamed Shrimp Shumai ($6) with ginger-soy sauce; and the Dairyless Chicken Coconut-Galanga Soup ($4) with organic chicken, mushroom and cilantro.

The starters were tasty, but didn’t bowl anyone over. We were all expecting more of a kick and instead we got a very solid but polite opening. The Leek Spring Roll and Scallion Pancake were good, the Shumai and wings were perfectly steamed and fried respectively, and the soup was flavorful and plenty. As it turned out the starters were exactly that, just starters. They led us in and then, wow. We were served five fantastic dishes.

We had ordered Spicy Basil Leaf with Chicken and Jasmine Rice ($11.50), which was cooked with onion, sweet basil, bell pepper and bird’s eye chili-basil sauce; a special Wild Boar Basil, which was cooked similarly to the chicken dish; Koong Ob Woonsen ($14), sauteĢed large shrimp with glass noodles and herbs in sesame-ginger sauce; and Hot Basil Fried Rice ($9.50) with beef, egg, sweet basil, fresh ginger, pepper and bird’s eye chili sauce. Thinking that we should try the Pad Thai at a Thai eatery but wanting to get something that’s special to the restaurant, we decided the final dish would be the Crispy Pad Thai ($12) with shrimp, chicken, crispy egg noodle, bean sprout, egg, turnip and scallion.

We all took a sampling from each platter and a hush fell over the table as everyone tasted the five dishes. This was the flavor we were hoping for, and not just heat, though there was certainly plenty of fire in the Spicy Basil Leaf and Wild Boar Basil dishes. There was an abundance of well thought out and layered herbs and spices through each dish, even in something as basic and fundamental as the fried rice. It was immediately clear to everyone that we were being served quality food too, not something slapped together or fried quickly to order.

The Koong Ob Woonsen may have been the favorite of the bunch, though it was tough to get a group consensus since every dish was so good. It did have the best presentation and was beautifully delicate but still full of texture and taste. Speaking of texture, the crunch of the Crispy Pad Thai was a great alternative to the rest of the dishes and I recommend it if you’re looking for Pad Thai but want something just a little different.

Speaking of different, we tried a variety of desserts and the two cupcakes were very unique. They had a chocolate cupcake, but where’s the fun of that when there’s lychee or taro to try? We ordered both. I won’t say they were huge hits, but definitely well executed and nicely flavorful. When our server mentioned they had Fried Ice Cream, even though that’s far from traditional Thai, we had to give it a try and everyone agreed it was one of the better fried ice cream presentations any of us had tasted. The outside shell was perfectly crisp and the inside was cold and creamy. But the very traditional Thai dessert that you must try at Tong-D is the Mango with Sweet Sticky Rice. There is no better way to describe it than delicious. Sticky and sweet with a great piece of fruit, we all attacked this dessert after having a taste.

Everyone in our left Tong-D wanting to come back. The best endorsement came from one friend who said it was such a great neighborhood restaurant, he would get take-out from there at least once a week. I couldn’t have agreed more.