Over the years, I have come to terms with many of my faults and with the closing of a few great restaurants in the city of late, I have put my prowess for procrastination in check. No longer will I say, “I should really go there,” and continue to drive by. I have officially scrapped my New Year’s resolution to get into shape and, instead, will steadily check off my list of must-eat dining destinations. I will now pass my gym and think, “I should really go there.” I can’t do it all.
You have probably driven by Green Papaya on Wasson in Hyde Park and, as I had done for years, blankly stared at it as you waited for the longest light in the city to turn green. And, as you wait for said light, your mind will inevitably wander and you will take a mental inventory of similar Thai/Sushi places in the area.
As I entered Green Papaya, I already knew what set it apart — ambiance.
Green Papaya sets the mood with relaxing music and small water features that reminded me I have a massage gift certificate to use. Tables and menus are adorned with satin, jade green cloths embroidered with the restaurant’s name and logo (you guessed it, a papaya). My dining companion knew our server and, while he was quizzing her about the Thai curse words she remembered, I paged through the fairly large menu. Aside from the usual appetizers, soups, salads, curries and noodle and rice dishes, there are categories titled Healthy Food With Chef, Happy Meal and Fish Story. The Healthy Food section is loaded with vegetables and various sauces providing diners with the choice of adding vegetables, meat or seafood.
The Happy Meals are seafood heavy with a few duck options, and most have that deliciously ominous chili icon warning. Fish Story is pretty self-explanatory.
As one should do on an inaugural visit, we left our appetites in our server’s hands and ordered the Green Curry with Tofu ($10.95) and a dish called Crazy Noodle ($9.95). I wanted to start with sushi because I love sushi. OK, I really love the wasabi. My method is not quite orthodox, as I heap wasabi atop each roll and savor the eye-watering burst of flavor (always prepared, I wore waterproof mascara for the occasion). We started with the Spicy Yellowtail Roll ($6.25) and the Green Papaya Roll ($13.95).
Green Papaya boasts about its efficient service and it delivered. The Green Papaya Roll is the most substantial roll I have ever seen. Two tempura shrimp spiked the towering rolls of spicy tuna, mango and cream cheese wrapped with green soybean and topped with spicy mayo, crab stick (aka artificial crab) and tempura flakes. It was a treat of texture and taste with the crunch of the tempura flakes, saltiness of the tuna, sweetness of the mango and the smooth, cool cream cheese. The Spicy Yellowtail Rolls, while not that spicy according to my mascara-smudge scale, were fresh and were quickly devoured.
The efficiency is relentless! As I was licking the wasabi from my chopsticks, our meals arrived. The Crazy Noodle has wide rice noodles pan-fried in a basil sauce with onion, eggplant, long beans and peppers served in a lettuce bowl. The tofu was firm and lightly fried and the basil sauce lent a refreshingly spicy licorice flavor to the dish. The noodles were not so crazy and, for my taste, overcooked.
The Green Curry with Tofu was rich with coconut milk and included peas, broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, bamboo shoots, eggplant and zucchini. I am a sucker for a great sauce and will often bypass accouterments for it. Not that the vegetables weren’t good, but I found myself spooning out the sauce and drizzling it over the rice. The Thai basil was fresh and, coupled with the coconut milk, made the veggies seem like an obstacle.
I usually forgo dessert unless there are house-made specialties or unless I am at Frisch’s with my dad and he makes me eat a hot fudge cake. Green Papaya offers red bean and green tea ice creams, but since neither was sandwiched between two pillows of chocolate cake, we passed.
Let’s be honest, when you are in the Hyde Park Thai quad, there are many good choices. You might have your favorite, but branch out and try someplace new for a change. At Green Papaya, you will have a nice, relaxing meal and, if you’re lucky, you will learn a few new Thai curse words to mutter in the middle of your endless Monday team meeting.
Go: 2942 Wasson Road, Hyde Park
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. -10:30 p.m. Saturday; and noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9.95-$17.95
Red Meat Alternatives: Varied
Accessibility: Fully accessible