For a city of roughly 70,000 folks situated in the American Northeast, Portland boasts a surprisingly large amount of Thai restaurants — 11 brick-and-mortar establishments within city limits. Perhaps even more surprising is the amount of ground covered by the list as a whole, both literally and figuratively. Crawl down Forest Avenue, and you’ll eventually be met with the fiery Lao-influenced cuisine of Northeastern Thailand at Thai Esaan — arguably the city’s finest option for quality takeout. Head back to the peninsula, and Boda’s “Very Thai” takes on country-spanning street vendor classics are enough to impress even the most critical diners.
Cheevitdee, which opened in May of this year in the heart of the Old Port, is the newest addition to the fold, delicately teetering on the cusp of differentiation and the mundane.
With a name that translates as “good life,” Cheevitdee puts a fair amount of effort into sticking to its prescribed concept of healthy dining. It starts with the look and feel of the space — clean and natural, with strong usage of green and white tonal qualities throughout. The menu is devoid of deep-fried anything; riceberry (a newly registered crossbred Thai rice variety) flanks just about every non-noodle entrée. Few of the dishes could be described as “heavy,” despite ample portions. A focus on seafood exists to a point.
Health may be our greatest wealth — but how’s the food? Inconsistent, it turns out but showing promise.
The pla goong (spicy shrimp bites) at Cheevitdee.
Pla Goong (spicy shrimp bites), served in individual spoons not unlike Boda’s pomelo fruit starter, encourage an oyster-like, “chomp-chomp-slurp” approach. The shrimp, while tender, unfortunately fall out of focus thanks to a base of warm, aggressively seasoned liquid that offers far more acid than the dish calls for and a rather unpleasant, salty sting to the tongue.
Lemongrass chicken skewers.
Equally perplexing were Gai Ta Khrai (lemongrass chicken) skewers, somehow bursting with bright and interesting flavor while maintaining the texture of a well-worn duck boot sole.
Both dishes held significant potential as strong starters — both fell flat.
Som Tum (papaya salad) brought things back up, delightfully refreshing and loaded with crisp textural interplay thanks to the inclusion of fresh green beans, carrots, and Sungold tomatoes. With a slowly creeping tidal wave of heat, what started as a mild, slightly funky salad finished with assertive and spicy vigor that made the dish stand out as one of the better iterations I’ve had.
The Ping Ngob, a grilled salmon curry wrapped in banana leaves, makes a Cheevitdee visit completely worth it.
Then came what may be Cheevitdee’s “signature” dish — Ping Ngob, a grilled salmon curry unlike anything else currently being served in the area. Arriving steaming-hot and wrapped tightly in banana leaves, the bundle is unfolded tableside to reveal a carefully constructed tower of salmon, napa cabbage, basil and chilies over a bed of riceberry. The fish — showcasing a pleasant, numbing heat — was floral with lemongrass, impossibly tender and perfectly seasoned, contrasting nicely with the earthy riceberry below; a worthy grain, it turns out, and not just a healthful stand-in. This dish is a winner and worth a visit alone.
Cheevitdee’s menu isn’t for everyone, but it’s also not reserved solely for health-conscious diners looking for a night out on the town — this is not “diet Thai.” What it is has yet to be fully clarified or realized, but with bright flavors and an approachable atmosphere, this is a restaurant that may well come into its own over time.
Cheevitdee | 363 Fore St., Portland | Mon-Thurs 11:30 am–9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 11:30 am–10 pm | www.cheevitdeeportlandme.com | 207.747.4795
Latest from Erik Neilson
- At Sichuan Kitchen, No-Frills Authenticity and Warmth Abound
- Cooking Channel's 'Late Night Eats' episode features gluttonous trip through Portland — An interview with Jordan Andino
- A Gross Way to End Your Night Coming to Portland — Pastry chef Brant Dadaleares to whip up a Confection Bar
- Rose Foods brings Old-world elegance and charm to busy Forest Ave.
- Too Little, Too Late — First impressions of the Roma Cafe