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November 16, 2017

Walking on the Fresh Side: A look at quirky Thai in Amherst

Jess Watsky/Collegian

It was an eve of mixed emotions the night my companion and I went to Fresh Side, invigorated and ready to face the academic year with an open mind as the summer’s end drew upon us. We had just come face to face with the Dirty Truth – the beer hall, that is – and the stark realization of the necessity of a photo ID, and headed to Fresh Side for some purely gastronomic pleasures.

Upon arriving at the eccentric Amherst establishment, we ordered a selection of iced teas. A classic Thai iced tea for myself, and a jasmine and coconut milk tea for my date. The Thai iced tea, similar to ones I’ve had before, was sweet and milky, but a little mild for my standards. The intensity of the spices seemed to be lost in the creamy base. The jasmine tea was the hit of the evening, to my surprise. My dining companion found it floral, perfume-like and complimentary with the coconut milk; neither flavor seemed to clash.

When faced with the choice of which delicious appetizer to sample, the decision was obvious: a carb-packed pad thai tea roll that I had enjoyed on previous occasions. I was admittedly disappointed when the dumpling served was dry and bland, soapy at best from some perky cilantro, mollified only with a dash of peanut sauce. All the aromatics and flavors of pad thai, a dish that hits every single gustatory sensation, were muted to the point of boredom.

The entrees, grouped into singular ingredient-based conceptions – pad thai, ginger beef, Peking – comprise of soups, rice, noodle dishes, or tea rolls. Feeling autumnal, I opted for an apple curry noodle dish, with fresh summer vegetables. The noodle plate was exuberant in its execution, with bright chunks of perfectly cooked and seasoned vegetables covering fettuccine pasta – odd for a Thai-esque restaurant. Unfortunately, the sauce, the very apex of the dish itself, lacked the intense interest . Harboring a gelatinous texture, it smelled like cinnamon, curry spices and cloves, but was devoid of that apple lushness I so coveted. The sauce’s underwhelming flavor contradicted the original concept of presenting a dish with such an interesting combination.

My date enjoyed her entrée, fried rice stuffed inside a delicate pillow of an omelet. I found the rice to be well seasoned and crunchy, with nice pieces of water chestnut. The egg was more of a sheet than a blanket and did not overwhelm the senses, providing enough softness to cushion the crunch of the rice and vegetables. There was a strange addition to the plate, though – a sauce that seemed far more apt to be with my pasta than on the side of her dish, a peppery applesauce with grainy spice particles that both intrigued and confused us. Was it a small dessert? A palate cleanser? A nod and a wink at a traditional brunch side dish? We didn’t understand it, nor did we enjoy it. It clashed with the savory rice dish and fit in as neither a sauce nor a side.

Fresh Side is a funky, albeit standard restaurant. It tries to be quirky and succeeds in most areas, but fails to provide the bold flavors and dishes beyond its hype. If the diner is willing to step beyond his or her comfort zone, the results can occasionally be exquisite. Perhaps Fresh Side ought to take a page from the menus of more traditional Thai restaurants in the area and master the classics first. Playing with the big boys means you have to bring a big game, and Fresh Side needs a little more practice.

Jess Watsky can be reached at jwatsky@student.umass.edu.

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