Thai Machine 

Tuk Tuk's Flavor Falls Flat

Tuk Tuk

4239 NE Fremont

282-0456

A local expert recently said to me, "Tuk Tuk has done for the 1990s what Kim Hong did for the 1980s." I know, you have no idea what this local expert is talking about. But please, let me explain.

For many years, the space at 4239 NE Fremont was occupied by a Vietnamese restaurant by the name of Kim Hong. The food wasn't bad, the decorating was gray and pink flower-oriented, and they allowed smoking in one section of the restaurant. Kim Hong was stuck in a sort of 1980s time warp. No decorating changes were ever made, pastel colors were used, and kids could slurp up Pho in a cloud of cigarette smoke. It was as if you could open the door and walk back into the '80s.

Tuk Tuk, now occupying Kim Hong's space, has been similarly affected by the building's time warp. They, however, have embraced the '90s. They've modified the building so it's coated in burnt orange vinyl siding, and the inside is painted a similar burnt orange (remember the '90s Aztec colors explosion: "Coral and turquoise are radical!"), the decorations are pseudo-fancy, and there is terrible, '90s, colorful "people" art on the walls (and for some ungodly reason each painting has "Portland Summer Nights" scrawled across it in Sharpie). Anyway, this is proof that our expert is right on the money.

But even though I have described, in painstaking detail, why "Tuk Tuk has done for the 1990s what Kim Hong did for the 1980s," you're probably wondering about the food. Sadly, much like Kim Hong's fare, it's just okay.

The salt and pepper calamari appetizer was somewhat soggy and not very plentiful considering the $9 price tag. It also lacked a healthy dose of SALT AND PEPPER. When I'm going to gorge on something unhealthy I want there to be a lot of it, and it better be really unhealthy (a.k.a. a bucket of salt). The Lao style house green salad boasted cilantro without delivering it, and seemed like an "old person salad" (iceberg lettuce, tomato, hard boiled eggs???), but then again, it was ladled with a tasty, sweet dressing.

Now for the entrées: One major flaw of the main dishes at Tuk Tuk is they don't ask you how spicy you'd like them. The Pad Kee Mao is supposed to be a spicy/sweet noodle dish with chunks of tomato, mushrooms, and leaves of basil. It had the vegetables, but wasn't spicy at all and had way too much sauce. It simultaneously under- and overwhelmed me. The red curry, one of the few curries without coconut milk, had a flat, salty flavor, and while the vegetables were tasty (tiger-striped tomatoes included), it didn't have any spice or zing. The dish reminded me of canned soup.

The service is quick and friendly at Tuk Tuk, but with virtually thousands of Thai restaurants in town, personality (or even the restaurant's short distance from my house) is not enough to send me back for more.

From Kim Hong to Tuk Tuk the quality and flavor of the food has proved equally mediocre; so unless you're interested in time period decorating, I'd recommend someplace else.

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