Classic Asian fare, hip decor in Lowell
Hours: Monday, 4-10 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, noon to 1 a.m.; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m. (Kitchen and sushi bar close 10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; kitchen closes at 11 p.m. and sushi bar at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday)
Credit cards accepted
The name roughly translates to “blue sea,’’ but blue sky also would also be an appropriate moniker for Blue Taleh, a Thai and Japanese restaurant in downtown Lowell. There are outside tables for waterside dining (with one of the city’s canals subbing for the ocean), while garage door-sized windows create a wide-open feeling in the interior. Even the inside feels outside here.
Some patrons will turn their backs on the windows and belly up to the martini and sushi bar — another distinct feature of this 2 1/2-year-old establishment. An image of a cocktail glass is etched in the frosted glass of the front door, advance warning that this is a place to hang out and sip signature drinks such as a cucumber margarita ($9) or a candy apple martini ($10). Wednesdays, you can hear jazz and blues jam; Fridays are piano night.
A low wall separates the bar from the dining area, which is a cool and comfy space with lime and dusty-rose walls graced with offbeat and oddly shaped artwork by Lowell painter and sculptor Patrick Pierce.
The décor says hip while the menu features Japanese and Thai cuisine typically found in New England. There are gyoza ($6), crab Rangoon ($7), crispy shrimp rolls ($8), an array of sushi and maki rolls ($4-$7.75), udon soups ($10), and various kinds of pad Thai ($9.25 to $13.25). Nothing too startling, or so it seemed at first.
To get things started on a warm night, we sampled seaweed salad ($6), a generous mound of neon-green ocean bounty, with cherry tomatoes; it was both tart and refreshing.
Given the location, we were tempted to try the Lowell maki roll ($12.25), with yellowtail, crab stick, and avocado among other ingredients, but on the recommendation of our very helpful and cheerful waitress we opted for a more unusual maki creation, the tuna tostada ($11.25). It turned out to be a tour de force of design, with the deep red of the chopped raw tuna gracefully laced with long threads of pink spicy mayo, perched on a layer of nori (seaweed wrap) and sushi rice, which in turn was perched on a layer of torched tempura dough. It might seem like overkill, but the different textures and flavors melded together with startlingly effectiveness. The fiery mayo was a bit overwhelming, but not enough to detract from the overall effect.
The only problem with the tuna tostada was that it was served along with the main courses; it might have been better for this dish to be served first, letting it be a star all by itself for at least a few minutes.
Blue Taleh’s Thai specialties included tamarind duck ($19), thick slices drizzled with a tamarind sauce that did not overwhelm the fresh vegetables, the pineapple chunks, or moist meat.
To get our fill of seafood, we ordered the Pleasure Island ($21), with squid, shrimp, crunchy peppers, basil leaves, and well-seasoned and crispy soft-shelled crabs. The surprise hit was its tender bits of eggplant, which — as eggplant tends to do — absorbed the dish’s flavors and proved to be more tasty than the somewhat mushy squid.
Naturally, we sampled the pad Thai, opting for the chicken version ($11.25); it was sweet, narrowly skirting the edge of cloyness, and satisfying with its noodles, chicken chunks, and veggies. No surprises here, but none were needed. Blue Taleh’s strength is in the freshness of its ingredients, and its clean, thoughtful presentations.
That makes the restaurant’s “create your own dishes’’ ($11 to $15) another good option, as you can choose from various meats and sauces (black bean, tamarind, sweet and sour) and additions, including cashew nuts, snow peas, and string beans, to customize the stir fry.
Wanting only a trifle for dessert, we bypassed the cappuccino hazelnut torte ($7) and fried ice cream ($5.75) for the mochi strawberry ($6), a Japanese treat of strawberry ice cream and soft, sweet sticky rice. The dish resembled a pen-and-ink painting with its dabs of whipped cream and strokes of chocolate framing the ice cream and rice. It was an artful end to a satisfying meal.