Everything's a trade-off. You know the food might not be as good at your neighborhood Chinese carryout as at a full-fledged restaurant, but it's going to cost you half as much. (Feel free to prove me wrong by sending me the names of carryouts with superb food.)
I expected the same to be true of Thairish, a tiny Thai carryout/eatery. To some extent it is -- if you compare Thairish to the best of Baltimore's Thai restaurants. But for inexpensive carryout food, this is as good as you're going to get.
The menu is quite simple, with such dishes as pad thai, three kinds of red curry (hot, hotter, hottest) and Thai fried rice. You mix and match with chicken, shrimp or -- for dinners under $5 -- tofu. The sauces are wonderful in the way only Thai sauces are -- surprisingly delicate, with complex layers of fire, each bite a little more addictive than the last. That goes for the red curry sauce and the peanut sauce that was ladled over rice.
As far as I can tell, Thai cooks are incapable of mistreating vegetables, so even though nothing exotic comes with the dinners -- a broccoli floret or two, a few snow peas, some carved slices of carrot -- all are fresh and cooked just until crisp-tender.
Pad thai is a happy combination of rice noodles, peanut sauce, a few shrimp, bean sprouts and green onions that, when done right, is just about irresistible. At Thairish, it is done right.
By choosing carefully, you could put together an outstanding meal here, but be prepared for the glitches. Some are hardly glitches at all -- the chicken dishes don't contain much chicken, and what there is isn't all white meat, if that matters. But pan-fried flounder with hot chili pepper and lemon grass in lime sauce tasted decidedly fishy -- too fishy for me to eat. The lime sauce might well have been just reconstituted lemon juice poured over the fish.
Fried shrimp satay, available as an appetizer or main course, tasted like it started with frozen breaded shrimp (more crunch than seafood), although given the price and the zippy peanut-curry sauce, it's hard to complain.
A better beginning was the coconut milk soup. Pieces of chicken and pale green cabbage swam in the thin white broth sparked with the tang of lemon grass. The Thai spring roll, with a wrapper that shatters at the touch of a fork, is stuffed with grated carrot, celery and cellophane noodles.
Dessert that evening was coconut custard, which was gray in color and very sweet, but otherwise not bad. I'd skip dessert and just indulge in another ginger beer or orange-mango juice.
Thairish is mainly a carryout, but we enjoyed eating at one of the three tables. (There are also stools at the counter.) The place has a lot of funky charm, and eating in at the Thairish is a truly intimate dining experience. Need another napkin? You don't have to catch a waiter's eye; you don't even have to get up to reach one off the counter.
Where: 804 N. Charles St.
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: MC, V
Features: Thai food
Non-smoking section? No
Call: (410) 752-5857
Prices: Appetizers, $1.50-$2.50; entrees, $4.95-$5.95.