Photograph by Michael Amsler
AMERICAN DREAM: Chef-owner Kack Brightman.
Nice 'n' Spicy
Cotati's Tiny Thai tips taste buds
By Jonah Raskin
Two very small women with very big dreams run Tiny Thai, a new restaurant in the heart of Cotati. Kack Brightman, who is married to an American, does the cooking in a kitchen that's barely big enough for her to turn around. Her friend Kay Attachoo waits on tables and serves customers in a streamlined dining room that holds about 10 people, perhaps more if they're tiny.
Brightman wasn't fooling around when she called her restaurant "Tiny Thai." Though by some standards she might be considered large ("In Thailand, I'm a big girl," she says), Brightman actually is very small. Fortunately, the portions aren't tiny and the prices are reasonable. The duck curry is a steal at $12.95, and the crab-fried rice is a penny-pincher's dream come true at $10.95. Every single rice kernel is delectable; every single dish is a treat for the taste buds.
Brightman comes from Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand, famous for its regional cuisine known as khan toke. She cooked at home as a young woman, went to cooking school in Chiang Mai, came to California, and worked in a string of Thai restaurants before opening her own place last August. The dishes she makes are as close to authentic Thai as can be found anywhere in the North Bay, though some traditional dishes like deep-fried pig skin don't make it to menu. There are, however, crispy egg rolls ($5.95) and deep-fried chicken wings marinated in tamarind sauce ($5.95).
Brightman cuts every vegetable on the menu by hand with the sharpest of knives from Thailand. Cutting vegetables is the first thing she does each morning when she arrives for work at 10:30am, and each thinly sliced onion, carrot, mushroom or tomato looks like a miniature work of art. The basic ingredients are all authentic: lemongrass, garlic, basil, kalanta, which looks like ginger but has more kick to it, as well as the leaf of the kaffir lime, and tiny Thai chiles that are about a quarter of the size of a jalapeņo. What they lack in mass they make up for in heat. Brightman grows some Thai chiles in her own garden, but she buys most of them and the other ingredients she needs from Asian Market on Petaluma Hill Road in Santa Rosa.
"I love to cook," she said on a recent rainy afternoon. "I love it when people eat everything on the plate, and when all the food I've made is gone. That makes me very happy and my dreams come true."
In addition to the ever popular duck curry and crab fried rice, which are often lunch specials, customers like pra ram, a rich, creamy dish of steamed spinach and broccoli with peanut sauce ($6.95). Brightman buys ground peanuts and cooks them in coconut milk, another basic in Thai cuisine, until they're tender and sweet. Her jasmine rice and her mango sticky rice are also both cooked to perfection and intensely flavorful.
The only drawback is the absence of Thai beer. There's nothing like a cold Singha to go with hot, spicy Thai food, but the green tea is good and so is the Thai ice tea and Thai ice coffee, both $2.50. Of course, there's Pad Thai ($7.95), the dish that no self-respecting Thai restaurant would be without, and Brightman makes it especially well.
"Feeding people is what I like to do," she says. "If I could feed everyone in the whole world, that's what I would gladly do."
Tiny Thai, 8238 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. Lunch, Monday–Saturday; dinner, Monday–Sunday. 707.794.9404.
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