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Switta Thai
****
Out of a possible five
$$

First to final bite, Thai spot leads pack

As the Asian food movement continues in Fort Wayne, it is easy to forget about the places that have been around awhile.

At one time there were just two Thai spots in the Summit City, but now the ever-growing number is nearing double digits. So I took a break from all the newbies recently and went back to a place that was one of my favorites before the trend – Switta Thai Cuisine in Washington Plaza near Lima and Washington Center roads.

And those return visits made me appreciate it even more.

It isn’t flashy, but the food coming out of the kitchen is.

The Shrimp Rolls grabbed my attention the way they were playfully served in a martini glass with a sprig of fresh Thai basil. Minced shrimp and chicken were wrapped in rice paper and deep fried with the shrimp tail jutting out of one end. They were crisp, the filling was scrumptious and the sweet and spicy vinegar-based dipping sauce was the perfect complement.

The Switta Tom Yum Dumplings were another great starter. These pan-fried and steamed potstickers were filled with chicken and vegetables with fresh herbs and lemongrass that really woke them up and separated them from the pork-filled norm. They also came with a citrus soy dipping sauce that made them even livelier.

Speaking of Tom Yum, each entrée was preceded by a cup of soup that was “kind of like” the traditional hot and sour Thai soup, said Pisarn Amornarthakij, who owns the restaurant with his wife and the restaurant’s head chef, Sasitorn.

The orange broth had vermicelli noodles, a tomato wedge, chicken, green onions, mushrooms and strips of fresh basil. It was more sweet than hot or sour and way more interesting than the clear soup many Asian places offer.

It is a good idea to check the chalkboard near the register at Switta because there is usually a good off-menu special there.

I found those Tom Yum Dumplings there a few years ago, but this time it was Gang Supparod Kong – green curry with shrimp and pineapple – that caught my eye.

Eight large tail-on shrimp, fresh pineapple, onions, green and red peppers, tomatoes, squash and zucchini were coated in a tasty light green curry sauce with streaks of creamy white coconut milk.

A sprig of basil sat in the middle of this dish, which looked as good as it tasted, and strips of kaffir lime leaves were spread around the plate. The kaffir leaves added a bright, somewhat minty or sour taste, and the combination of it all was fantastic.

The red curry was much different, but just as enjoyable. The Roasted Duck Curry had the same vegetables and garnishes as the green curry dish, but the red had a heavier, saltier flavor. It was great with the tender pieces of fatty duck, which had nicely crisped skin.

The duck curry also had slices of mango that, with the pineapple, helped tame the heat. I ordered mine “Thai hot,” and it was as hot as I would expect it to be.

The least spicy – and probably least Thai – dish I had was the Crabmeat Fried Rice. It was just what it sounded like; wok-charred, soy-infused rice with egg, peas, carrots, onions and crabmeat. The crab sort of flaked away and mixed into this rice dish adding sweet flavor to every bite. If you like fried rice and like crab, you will love it.

Another great find that was not all that Thai were Switta’s chicken wings. The crispy fried wings in this appetizer were plain except for some flecks of black pepper but came with a cloudy, spicy-sweet sauce to pour over them. The sticky sauce packed a punch, so it was nice to be able to control how much I wanted. The plump wings, which the menu said were brined, were very juicy.

Switta’s pad Thai was up to par with most places in town, but I preferred the signature Switta Noodle. Wide rice noodles, which were stir fried with egg, carrots, tomatoes, sprouts and choice of meat – chicken in my case – and topped with cashews. The menu said it was to be served on a bed of lettuce, but my plate just had some lettuce on the side with carrot slivers on it, and I didn’t use either. Regardless, the dish had sweetness to it in spite of being ordered Thai hot; the vegetables were fresh and crisp, and I loved having the cashews, which differentiated it from the peanut-topped pad Thai.

The best dessert offering at Switta was easily the mango sticky rice. The plate it arrived on is pretty with decorative lime and coconut sauces and the restaurant’s name artfully written out in cinnamon and sugar. But it won’t stay pretty long because you will want to dig into this sticky, sweet, coconut-milk sweetened rice and the wedges of just-as-sweet ripe fruit. The coconut ice cream was surprising because it was actually sweet potato and coconut ice cream. It looks odd – half purple and half white – but the combination of flavors was great with the sweet potato giving it a savory edge.

Although there is nothing about the food at Switta Thai that I would change, there are a few things I would do to the décor. Amornarthakij has made this strip mall space as homey as possible with cool copper drop lights and gorgeous tapestries on the tables covered by glass. But there are a lot of old Thailand posters along the walls that would be better taken down, and the wooden rooms divider and fake plants could be replaced with more modern accents.

The service was mixed with the only flaws coming on a night when Pisarn was forced to wait on all of the tables because of staffing issues. He did his best, but appetizers were late and he was tardy bringing the bill.

I love that more and more Thai places are opening in the area because, as a frequent restaurant customer, I know competition is a good thing.

And I also know that when it comes to Thai restaurants, there is no competition.

Switta Thai Cuisine is still my favorite, hands down.

Restaurant: Switta Thai Cuisine

Address: 5820 Challenger Parkway

Phone: 497-9429

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Cuisine: Thai

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes, but no menu

Menu: Tom Yum Dumplings ($8.95), shrimp rolls ($7.95), Switta Noodle ($11.95), duck curry ($15.95), pad Thai ($10.95), crab fried rice ($14.95), sticky rice ($6.95), ice cream ($3.50)

Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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