When you Google "best Thai in Dayton, OH", a little place called Thai 9 is the FIRST thing that pops up. Amongst what you can readily glean from this search are reviews of people that have dined there previously, all but a few giving them shining reviews. You pick up a Chamber of Commerce magazine in any hotel lobby in Dayton and Thai 9 is on their "Top 10" list of restaurants along with The Pine Club (Supposedly the best steak in town) and L'Auberge (Best French cuisine "for miles around") . Ask someone that lives in the area, "Oh, Thai 9? Yeah, they have great food!" There is a TON of hype surrounding this place that creates the feeling that it's just not to be overlooked if you plan on eating out at all when you visit Dayton. I am absolutely in LOVE with Thai, so I HAD to check it out...and drag some friends along.
Thai 9 is tucked away in a little place called the Oregon District in downtown Dayton. It's reminiscent of the historic sections of every town in America. Cobblestone streets, artsy fartsy pottery shops, little bed & breakfasts.... I think you get the picture... At first glance, curbside of Thai 9, you get the impression you are about to walk into a quaint, simple, & warmly inviting place.
The back of the establishment features a HUGE parking lot which is GREAT when the only other option is the tweency little OD streets out front. The back of Thai 9 has two levels of patio seating, which this time of year was not available to eat on yet, but if you chose to....you could stand there with a drink from the bar and chit-chat with your party. It was 63 last night...why not, right??
When I asked the hostess what their signature dishes were, or what was NOT to be missed as she was showing me around, she immediately mentioned their Pad Thai and the Duck Basil. Duck Basil eh? Now...that sounded like somethin' I HAD to try!
The inside of this place was a strange mish-mash of decor that confused me a bit. It looked rustic..almost like a skiing chalet on the inside. There was a fair amount of hanging ivy of all things... Really? They have that in Thailand? My Great Uncle Jerry lives in Thailand....I can tell you...no, they don't have hanging ivy. The saving grace of it all was the wall art they chose, you could PRETEND you were in a Thai place if you stared at it long enough...
Picture overlooking our table
On the wall heading upstairs to 2nd level balcony seating
Greets you as you head to the Sushi bar
But my enthusiasm was snuffed out there. When we walked in, we came in through the back; the bar area was immediately in front of us. The stools were half filled and there were some people congregated nearby standing. The noise level was very low, we could talk without yelling....but that quickly wasn't the case....
We had 6:30 reservations for 5 & a high chair. I mention this because that comes into play later when the check came. Moving on...
We were seated quickly and our server took some time to explain the menu. We had no idea it took any explanation, until he started talking. Thai 9's signature qwirk is that they have a spice level for their foods...a scale of 0-9. Fair enough. He told us there are some dishes that you have to start at a "3" with no matter what because that is just how they are made. But, he really drilled in the concept that “you can always add spice to, but not take away” so be real with yourself about what you can handle. I was sufficiently spooked knowing that authentic Thai could really clean your clock...I went with a "5".
We started out with a Sushi sampler again...what could go wrong right? It had a little bit of everything and was served with...of course...wasabi & ginger peel.
I went straight for the eel there on the left. I only took half because I wanted anyone else interested to be able to enjoy. Oopsy daisy... Big mistake. It tasted "fishy", felt rubbery on my tongue and was chewy. Ick! Then, I had a sushi roll which was just "okay" and told myself "Sushi isn't “Thai” anyhow...wait for the entree Amanda..." I got up and started to look around a bit more, hoping that exploring would erase the bad eel and make room for the possibility of "great" to happen. Here's what I saw...
View from our table
Closer to the kitchen
Sushi bar from the balcony
I went back to my seat because the entrees were sure to be coming up soon. We'd been there a while...it was 7:25pm at this point. Almost an hour into dining.... To get down from the balcony area you have to walk through the reception and bar area. By this time, it was PACKED. WALL TO WALL. I've never said "excuse me" so many times to get through a crowd. You couldn't see the counter of the bar. I wasn't sure if they were all drinking while waiting for a seat, there to pick up a call in order (there were bags & BAGS of food lined up for pick up behind the reception desk) or just there for drinks. It certainly wasn't a “gathering” friendly bar area. I bring all this up because the noise level of this place was unbelievably LOUD at this point. Think "marching band". One of the "highlights" of this place is supposed to be their vaulted ceilings and intimate balcony area. But, if you know anything about singing or acoustics you know these high ceilings create a breeding ground for noise to carry...a LOT. I feel sorry for the saps up top that thought they were getting a quiet romantic dinner. Ouchies. Not a place a family with young children will make it very long in...
But I digress...back to the food....
Our entrees arrive. 7:40pm. I couldn't wait to dig in to my Duck Basil. After the sushi I was afraid I shouldn't have taken the hostesses advice on the dinner. But, it held its own. The duck wasn't muddy, the skin was PERFECTLY crisped and that crustiness held up after being sauced. The vegetables were fresh and not wilted. Duck is a heavy, oily meat by nature, so to Thai 9's credit...they kept the sauce fairly translucent and light.
The problem entered in on sauce flavor. Remember that sliding scale of spice I told you about, "0-9"? Right... One of our friends that was along said he "Always has to go 9." but, I thought he was maybe just sayin' that because there were 4 other guys along. Ahem...not so. As I said...I went 5. I couldn't taste "spicy" anywhere in there! You know how Thai spice...it just SLAPS you across the face, hits at the back of your tongue...if it’s REALLY good, you almost choke? That? This didn't come close. I was looking for something much closer to "sweaty eyeballs" on the spice scale. This fell horribly short.
I was surprised how fast we all ate. It was 8pm now. Time for our son to be in bed. We asked our server for the check and he offered to take a picture of us. I was grateful...that was on the "to do" list before we left anyhow.
Checks come...lol...before he handed them to us he let us know that parties of 6 or more incur an automatic gratuity. Interesting...most places don't do that until you hit 8 guests in the party. And 6?? There were only 5 of us. I thought...surely the dude can count. Then I realized... I looked at the bar area FULL of people...then at my 1 year old; in his highchair sucking on a lemon wedge....then back at the bar. Space in that place is at a premium apparently. A kid that ordered nothing but was there COUNTS. Wow... So...18% extra got slapped onto everyone's bill. I felt SO guilty. Then…greatly annoyed.
Joe, Blake, Mister, the Wubby, Me & Jose
Over 60 bucks later, I decided that Thai 9 wasn't somewhere I would be going back to for an "eat in" experience. My entree was "good", but NOT fabulous. I can concede there may be other dishes to try. But, the environment was overwhelmingly loud and dim, even for the dinner hour lighting. As I made my way out with my left over Duck Basil I looked at those bags behind reception and thought to myself that those people had the right idea. Call it in, then take it home...and what I can tell you is when they ask you how "hot" you want it, ALWAYS say "NINE!!" .