Dan Thai Jazz Bistro

by Brian Clarey

Dan Thai Jazz Bistro

Here’s a sign of how things have changed over the years: I no longer balk at restaurants located in strip malls. There exists in this country about 20 square feet of retail space for every man, woman and child within our borders, and much of it sits unoccupied in strip mall after strip mall. Lots of restaurants live in strip malls these days, including one of the only true five-star restaurants in the Triad. So who am I to judge a restaurant by its landlord, especially if the rent is cheap enough to equate to better ingredients and staff? Dan Thai Jazz Bistro sits in a strip mall, right in the middle of High Point. And this is a fact you forget the moment you walk through the doors. It’s beautiful in a clean, minimalist way: soft, matte black walls; a few big canvasses; a teardrop pyramid chandelier that looks suspended in mid-air. The owner of the place, Dan Doby, knows a thing or two about mise en scene — according to his IMDB page, he played Judd Beecham #1 on the daytime drama “Loving” from 1985-86, got cast as Alvin on 1983’s Reuben, Reuben with Kelly McGillis as the lead, and filled the role f “Michael Warren” in the 1997 made-for-TV release Something Borrowed, Something Blue, which was a female buddy pic starring Twiggy and Connie Selleca. Doby doesn’t lean on his acting resume, just kind of acknowledges it with a shrug and an easygoing smile when it comes up as he bounces around the tables in the dining room. He’d much rather talk about food, particularly the food coming out of his kitchen, each dish created by Chef Jirayu “Jackie” Teatong, formerly of Bangkok. And that’s what he’s doing as we ease in on a Friday night, just after 8 p.m. Our old friend Bob Sanger takes a seat at the piano and Doby glides over to our table. “The music’s just about to start,” he says, and it does — dinner music, instrumental jazz listing almost imperceptibly towards bop. A martini. A glass of Thai beer. The food starts coming out. We had told Doby as we sat: We’re hungry. Feed us. He obliges by whisking out a couple salads with that fabulous ginger dressing and a bowl of airy rice puffs that go well with sweet sauce. A soup of tom yum chicken materializes quickly. This is a traditional Thai stew-like soup with strong essences of chili peppers, cilantro, mushroom, bamboo and ginger amid a broth redolent of chicken stock and coconut milk. It is fabulous, and we probably could end the meal right here. But the plate sof food keep coming. We have assured Doby that we can handle the hot chilis and strong garlic flavors of Thai cuisine. He has relayed this to Chef Jackie, who challenges out palates with num tok, a salad topped with thinly sliced beef that has been rubbed with dried chilis and other seasonings. The heat from the beef brings tears to my eyes — in a good way — and my wife who usually will not eat red meat but is a sucker for spicy food, cannot help but eat a portion. A platter of stir-fried noodles waits at the edge of the table, and we pick at it, but when the panang curry dish comes out, the noodles are forgotten. Here’s what ypu need to know about curry: There is no such thing as curry, or rather, there is no single things called “curry,” which makes up much of the seasoning in many Eastern dishes. Instead, curry is a paste made of complementary spices and herbs. In Thai cuisine, it is most often served as a stew-like soup; Panang curry, which originates from the island city of Panang, is sweet and rich, with the strong heat softened by peanuts and, often, coconut milk. And if it’s done right, panang curry has mild psychoactive properties that instill a perfectly legal food buzz. The dish does its job, and we are slouched in our seats when Doby, who has kept a running dialogue with every table in the house, brings dessert: deep-fried banana atop ice cream. The sweet and crispy concoction conspires with the jazz music and the curry’s influence to leave us at our table in a trance, dreamlike, until the music stops at around 11 p.m. Dan Thai Jazz Bistro; 1116 Eastchester Drive, High Point; 336.889.9896

Num tok, a Thai spicy beef salad, is hot enough to water the eyes and tasty enough to turn a vegetarian. (photo by Jill Clarey)