Licking our lips and cleaning the plate.

Cincinnati Bites
Painting from inside Jalapenos Mex-Mex

Posted Sunday, September 4, 2016

Many years ago, a Taiwanese co-worker of mine would occasionally arrive at my desk to share his latest spicy lunch derived from his mother's old recipes. "Try this one," he would say to me excitedly, knowing full well my penchant for fiery flavors. His latest dish looked tame enough: sticky rice with bits of minced pork, fried basil, egg and tiny, innocent, infinitesimally-diced chilies.

I popped a bite into my mouth as he stood there waiting for my reaction, smiling all the while. The flavors were amazing. Such complexity from such a deceptively simple dish! And just as I had relished those few moments reflecting upon its simple elegance, a tidal wave of tear-inducing heat slammed into my head with such force that I momentarily lost my breath.

Now that's what I call Thai food.

Since that time many moons ago, I've struggled to find something --anything-- remotely resembling that experience. The closest I came was last month, when I was introduced to a spicy, soupy noodle dish called Khao Soi. But otherwise, well...let's be honest: most Thai restaurants in town adopt a cookie-cutter approach to their menus. If you've seen one Drunken Noodle, you've seen them all.

Singha Thai is hoping to shake things up a bit. Formerly known as Blue Elephant, the Thai restaurant is now run by one of its former servers, offering dinner specials and other small touches she hopes will set it apart from the seemingly endless list of carbon-copy Thai options the area has to offer.

They certainly have their work cut out for them. A stone's throw from Singha are direct competitors like Wild Ginger, Green Papaya, Fusian (for sushi) and Lemon Grass. Toss in similar nearby restaurants like Ruthai, Yat Ka Mein, Beluga, Dancing Roll, Bangkok Bistro and 3501 Seoul, and you might as well call Hyde Park, "Little Asia."

We stopped by one weekend evening to find the interior layout nearly identical to its predecessor. I couldn't be sure, but it seemed to be the same furniture from Blue Elephant's 2009 opening. A steady stream of takeout orders were being picked up at the front register, but only one group of people were seated (though it was still fairly early for dinner).

The menus handed to us were small paper printouts --likely the takeout menus-- which punctuated the restaurant's newness. Thai curry entrees as well as soups, rice dishes and noodle dishes were available, as well as the apparently obligatory sushi offerings Hyde Park residents expect from their Asian restaurants, even when it doesn't fit the culture (Thailand isn't exactly known for its sushi...that would be Japan).

I honestly wasn't expecting much from Singha. Our initial visits to its predecessor, Blue Elephant, were positive, but after a couple years, the place had started to take a slight turn for the worse in quality. I was anticipating more of the same from Singha. I was wrong.

sushi Complementary sushi appetizer

The first thing we noted was how friendly and attentive the staff were here. They seemed genuinely enthusiastic and hospitable, two refreshing qualities in this day and age of routinely surly and indifferent customer service. The chef surprised us by arriving with two servings of complementary sushi: a shrimp tempura drizzled with a spicy mayo sauce. The pieces arrived beautifully presented on a wooden board with an edible leaf and carrot "flower." The appetizer was unexpected and delightful.

Singha's "special entree" menu includes sauteed sea scallops served with a house tamarind sauce, salmon carpaccio awash with citrus and mint, and the Luau Shrimp & Chips, with pan fried garlic and pepper shrimp served with a pineapple guacamole. But we felt the best way to compare Singha to other Thai restaurants, at least initially, was to order our "usual" dishes off the typical Thai menu.

My girlfriend ordered the Singapore noodles, very thin rice noodles mixed with curry, egg, bean sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots. I opted for the Pad Kee Mao, long, fat rice noodles stir fried with basil, tomato, onion, broccoli, mushrooms and bell peppers in a spicy brown sauce. We were somewhat disappointed to note that available proteins included only meat options: chicken, beef, pork or shrimp. Tofu was nowhere to be seen, so chicken was our runner-up selection.

sushi Singapore Noodles

sushi Pad Kee Mao

I was pleased to see Singha's simplified spiciness levels, a trend I've noticed lately in newer Asian restaurants. Gone are the 1-to-10 or 1-to-6 scales that seemed both inconsistent and arbitrary. Singha's options are mild, medium, spicy and very spicy.

When the entrees arrived, I was happy to see they didn't exhibit the oiliness we often endure with Thai noodle dishes and stir fries in general. The oil used in our entrees was treated with a thankfully light touch.

We appreciated the fact that the dominating profiles in our entrees: curry and soy/oyster sauce, were not overbearing. Everything was in balance, allowing the vegetables to shine through with their respective natural flavors and aromas. This made the dishes seem fresher, healthier.

On a sheer heat level, I could have used more from my Pad Kee Mao --the kind with which my former co-worker would kick me in the head. I'd chosen the "spicy" option, which was fine, but next time I'll choose the highest level.

I love the direction Singha has taken, which is a clear and obvious improvement over its predecessor. But I'm disappointed Cincinnati still doesn't offer a Thai restaurant aiming for more variety over its competitors. Simply look at this list of authentic Thai dishes and you'll see a sample of what we've all been missing. Is it too daring for area Thai restaurants to abandon their Americanized versions of exotic flavors?

Singha is one of the better Thai restaurants in town, and while Cincinnatians are not wanting for more Thai options, they're there when you need your fix.

Singha Contemporary Thai & Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Singha Contemporary Thai & Sushi

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Excellent
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars

Other Recent Reviews

  1. Thai impressions: Singha Contemporary Thai & Sushi
    -posted Sunday, September 4, 2016
  2. Raising Eyebrow: Frida 602
    -posted Monday, August 15, 2016
  3. A West Side Burger Story: Chandler's Burger Bistro
    -posted Sunday, July 31, 2016
  4. Peru Revisited: Sabor Peruano
    -posted Monday, July 11, 2016
  5. Touring Asia: The Pacific Kitchen
    -posted Sunday, June 19, 2016
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Michelle caddell about Bluebird Restaurant:
    My family has bee going to Bluebird for Years!! Terry and hus Mom and Dad make you feel like you just stopped by for a visit and they are feeding you. No matter what time of day you go, you will find a friend who had the same idea or just stopped in to see Reva or Dan (he makes the Best Burgers) If you think it is a little hole in the wall and your not missing anything...My friend you Don't know what Great food and Great company you are missing.
    posted: Thu., Aug 25th, 2016 @ 10:07 AM
  • From Heidi about Sabor Peruano:
    I love their cilantro rice with onion salad. I'm one to stick to the same dish but the meal you described sounds like I should switch it up. I usually get one meal to go so I can have it the next day! Love this place and SO glad they reopened :)
    posted: Sat., Aug 13th, 2016 @ 7:34 AM
  • From bob weeks about Mazunte Taqueria:
    Is your next restaurant going to be in Liberty Center?
    posted: Thu., Jun 30th, 2016 @ 3:03 PM
  • From Rob about Nashville Hot:
    Great write up. Personally I have had both ... And prefer Joellas.

    I thought it was a little suspect that they opened and the same time and almost directly across the street from each other too. I see a hot chicken war coming....Pat's vs Genos.
    posted: Mon., Jun 20th, 2016 @ 5:57 PM
  • From Jessica about Ladles:
    I'm also a fan of the she-crab! My husband and I also really like that Ladles offers 3 quarts of frozen soup for $12! Handy way to have something on hand for those nights when you just want to enjoy some tasty soup in your pjs!
    posted: Sun., May 22nd, 2016 @ 6:14 PM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Bella Luna:
    Several bloggers have commented on the bread pudding --can't recall if I'd tried it a decade ago-- but will definitely give it a try next time.
    posted: Thu., Jan 7th, 2016 @ 10:37 AM
  • From TJ Jackson about Bella Luna:
    The only good thing we have found at Bella Luna, and it is very, VERY good, is the bread pudding
    posted: Wed., Jan 6th, 2016 @ 4:33 PM
  • From Jennifer about Aladdin's Eatery:
    Alladins is one place we miss since moving to Dayton. Mark loves their salad with chicken. I love their side salad, lentil soup, rolled pitas and hummus. I agree about the unheated pitas being unremarkable. Their desserts are good too. Just nice to have a restaurant that serves fairly healthy food and with a lot yummy vegetarian options.
    posted: Fri., Jan 1st, 2016 @ 7:53 AM
  • From Jane about Django Western Taco:
    Django is under new ownership. There are changes going on with the menu, but hopefully it will all work out. I first noticed that the "complementary" chips and salsa are no longer complementary - there is a charge for chips and salsa now. And the salsa is served in a very, very small vessel. Very disappointing. The portions are considerably smaller and missing key ingredients that used to be included. Taco Tuesdays are a thing of the past. On the upside, Sunday brunch is returning at the end of November. I will hold off on my final judgment hoping that things will settle down......but for now, I'm highly disappointed.
    posted: Sun., Nov 15th, 2015 @ 10:48 AM
  • From TJ Jackson about Rooted Juicery + Kitchen:
    Dude! Dont go all vegan on us! :-)
    posted: Tue., Nov 3rd, 2015 @ 6:31 PM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design
The Best Dash Cam