The former Ten-O-Six tries a new name and a new menu with underwhelming results.
Published: October 6, 2010
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In July, the Federal Hill restaurant formerly known as Ten-O-Six became Thai Yum (1006 Light St.,  528-2146, thaiyum.com). Along with the name change, chef/owner Tom Chungsaksoon revised his menu, eliminating American dishes to focus strictly on Thai food, a tweak wrought by the “increasing popularity of Thai cuisine,” he wrote in an e-mail.
There’s no argument that the name “Thai Yum” signals Thai in a way that Ten-O-Six couldn’t, and if diners were confused by the ethos of the restaurant, they won’t be now. But by setting itself firmly in the camp of Thai cuisine, Thai Yum now inevitably finds itself in direct competition with the core of solid Thai restaurants in the city, including Light Street neighbor Thai Arroy. And with the obvious connotations drawn from the English definition of “yum” (in Thai, the restaurant’s web site explains, “yum” refers to “a popular citrusy preparation that combines freshly minced herbs with a variety of spices”), Thai Yum sets itself up for high expectations.
But on the night of our visit, it’s a bit of a letdown. The kitchen is out of certain ingredients, our meal is uneven, and the service is well-meaning but unpolished. This is unfortunate, because Thai Yum feels like it should be special. The downstairs dining room is attractive—narrow but cozy and smart, with dark wood floors and creamy white walls hung with embroidered tapestries—and its smallness makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a place off the beaten path rather than off busy Light Street. If the smooth jazz playing throughout the dining room is distracting (and a little dated), you still get the impression that someone believes it’s yielding atmosphere rather than irritation.
Ten-O-Six may have pushed the envelope with a creative blending of Thai and American, but Thai Yum is geared more toward familiarity, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Appetizers include the minced fish cakes known as tod mun, crispy string beans, and smoked spare ribs, as well as the not-quite-as-Thai coconut shrimp served with a Dijon mustard sauce. Thai yum ($6.50) combines slivers of onions and cilantro with the diner’s choice of meat, seafood, or tofu (we chose pork) and a blend of citrus and chili that demonstrates the verve and nuance of Thai cuisine. It’s a simple dish, but a good one, its flavors clean and bright. Chicken satay ($6.50) is undoubtedly more about comfort than nuance, but it, too, delivers admirably, with the grilled chicken still moist and resting on a smear of peanut sauce sprinkled with even more peanuts. We had hoped to try the vegetarian dumplings listed on the menu, but were told they are no longer served, so opted instead for what turned out to be a serviceable spring roll ($4.50).
Thai Yum’s entrées include curries and noodle dishes, sautés and fried-rice-based plates, and an all-encompassing specialty dishes section that covers everything from sautéed frog’s legs to chu-chee duck (cooked in coconut milk with kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass) to whitefish dishes such as green curry avocado fish or Thai basil fish (that evening made with salmon because the kitchen was out of whitefish). We stuck to basics on this visit, and perhaps that was the problem, because each dish felt a little tired and lacked the refinement one comes to expect from classic standbys.
Drunken noodles ($12 with beef) were the biggest disappointment, a bewilderingly bland plate of thick strips of beef and noodles without the lively perk of Thai basil or the heat or subtle sweetness that this dish usually yields. While the eggplant and basil stir fry ($9 with tofu) wasn’t particularly visually arresting, the eggplant and red peppers remained crisp and packed enough heat to give the dish a little kick. Cashew chicken ($11) offered tempered spice and a sauce made gently fragrant by a dose of chili paste, while a thick panang curry ($9 with chicken) packed the biggest wallop of flavors, all heat and coconut milk. It wasn’t particularly artful, but it was clearly a panang curry.
These missteps feel especially unfortunate given the graciousness of Chungsaksoon, who pulled up a chair to chat with regulars at a neighboring table, and who made a point of checking in throughout the evening with remaining diners, ending each exchange with a courtly bow. One wishes the lone server who took care of these half dozen or so tables might follow suit and learn quickly to refrain from making goofy comments about the number of drinks ordered at a given table, and that “Excuse me?” is a better response than “What?” when he misses an order.
Yet, the folks at Thai Yum are clearly trying to make it in a tough economy by tweaking their menu and offering lunch and dinner (and soon brunch), as well as carryout, and all at a pretty reasonable price. And I can only hope they’ll continue to improve, making each dining experience a little closer to yum.
> Email Mary K. Zajac