A FEISTY WIND has blown over from Bangkok by way of Portland; it's called Typhoon! (exclamation point included). It's the enterprise of a Thai named Bo Kline, who arrived in Portland in 1995. There, in the stylish environs of Northwest Portland and downtown's Imperial Hotel, she opened two upscale Thai restaurants called Typhoon! to big word-of-mouth success. She ventured north to open an outpost in Redmond's Bella Bottega shopping center. Then she opened another in Seattle last September. Typhoon!
1400 Western, 262-9797 lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Sat noon-3pm; dinner Mon-Thurs 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-11pm, Sun 4:30-10pm AE, DC, MC, V; full bar It's a spot we know well—the old Wild Ginger address on Western Avenue. It's a space we already associate with lemon grass and galangal, with curries and satays; Kline added some dramatic bamboo room dividers, and they look as if they've been amid the rest of these sleek appointments and under this alluringly lowered light from the start. Conceptwise, it was a seamless transition. But the salivating crowds that made this nowhere block of Western Avenue an international destination are now notably absent, no doubt having followed Wild Ginger up the hill. On two recent visits to Typhoon!, the once-bubbling place echoed forlornly. As we were there to see if the place earned its exclamation point, this loneliness did not bode well. We sat down to survey the menu, a vast and unusually compelling combination of old standards and nouvelle-Thai inventions. The tea list alone is a marvel of completeness: 140 varieties, each with a description of ingredients and flavors and effects, ranging from $2.50 to a whopping $35 a pot for the rarest varieties. Even non-tea drinkers will no doubt be charmed by this aficionado's approach to the noble leaf, even as they order something a little less rare from the full bar. We began by sampling lavishly off the appetizer list. Skewers of chicken satay (three for $5.95) were moist and lightly spiced, and served with creamy peanut dipping sauce. Vegetable spring rolls ($4.95), steamed not fried, were notably light but not at all wanting in flavor. Bags of Gold ($6.95), fried pastry stuffed with shrimp, shiitakes, and water chestnuts, were highly munchable fun. Ditto the crackling fried won tons ($4.95); pot stickers ($5.95), a crunchier version than one encounters in Chinese restaurants; and ka-thong tong ($8.95), crispy pastry cups stuffed with a curry-kissed blend of peas, chicken, and shrimp. All of the foregoing (save the pot stickers) can be ordered on the special sheet's Nibbles Platter ($11.95), which can get dinner for two off to a fine start. Typhoon!'s tom kah gai soup ($4.95, $8.95) was milky and ethereal; the coconut, chiles, lemon grass, and cilantro took turns lighting up the palate. Tom yum goong soup ($4.95, $8.95) was surehandedly fiery, its shrimp cooked with restraint. Noodles were also done with a practiced hand, at least the crab phad Thai special ($14.95). Two meaty legs arrived over the noodles and bean sprouts and crushed peanuts. Though it took a while to assemble (with no pick, bib, or hand-washing bowl offered), the result was a phad Thai of uncommon delicacy. ONWARD TO the mains. Garlic seafood ($15.95) featured a generous portion of shrimp, scallops, and squid swimming in a fiendishly garlicky brew, which was delectable over jasmine rice ($1, $1.50). A sensational Panang curry, which I ordered with chicken ($9.95), was the lushest of red curries, punctuated with fresh, colorful vegetables and loaded with moist chicken. The grilled rack of lamb in Massaman curry ($20.95) off the specials list was better still. (If these prices are striking you as high, stop comparing them with other Thai restaurants and assess them instead alongside another genus of place: the sort that serves rack of lamb—a dish that's rarely found under $21.) This lamb is cooked within a whisper of perfection and swathed in the sumptuous, complex Massaman cream sauce. Even better yet was the three-flavor fish ($16.95), an enormous hunk of halibut cut into nodes like a blossoming flower then deep-fried to sear in every last bit of juice. A spicy, sweet, and sour sauce that the menu described as "dazzling" actually was, complementing the mildness of the fish and its crunchy crust with vigor and elegance. Our efforts to compare Typhoon! with Wild Ginger through a taste-off of their duck in steamed buns with plum sauce was foiled, as Typhoon! was out of the dish. (Annoyingly, this wasn't mentioned until we ordered it.) A lesser taste-off of the spicy string beans side dish ($6.95), however, yielded a real competitor for Wild Ginger's chile-loaded classic. Desserts maintain the high: Mango cheesecake ($5.95), espresso cr譥 brl饠($3.50), and fresh pear cobbler with coconut ice cream ($5.95) were all splendid, each tweaked with a touch of the tropics. "Splendid" pretty much sums up this Typhoon!--a place which, in this critic's opinion, could sustain another exclamation point. My one caveat concerns service, which on our visits was everlastingly friendly but consistently slow, a puzzle since the place was hardly busy. Perhaps that's the biggest puzzle of all. For complete listings of reviewed restaurants, go to www.seattleweekly.com/food.