Pacific Northwest | January 18, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineJanuary 18, home
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A Storm of Flavor
Typhoon! strikes, and a passion for vegetables is stirred
Red chilies and garlic spike the Spicy String Bean Stir-Fry — and a teenager's interest — at Typhoon!
For a teenager, vegetables can be less than thrilling. But my son, Henry, has discovered a solution. "Just try to make them taste like they came from Typhoon!" he says.

Typhoon!, Henry's gold standard for flavorful food, is one of four restaurants owned and operated by Bongoj (Bo) Lohasawat Kline and her husband, Steve. The small Northwest chain opened in Portland in 1997, hit Redmond in '99, and finally Seattle in 2000. A second outlet in downtown Portland makes four.

Bo Kline's father was an engineer whose work took him and his family all over Thailand, so as a child, Bo was exposed to a wide range of foods. After getting a bachelor's degree at Thailand's prestigious Chulalongkorn University, she earned a master's at Gonzaga University in Spokane. She met Steve, a screenwriter, when he was on assignment in Bangkok. After they married, they chose to raise their family here. But Bo has maintained close ties with her homeland, and the restaurants have become something of a cultural exchange program. Bo hires cooks from Thailand for four-year stints, and she returns frequently to stay abreast of the latest food trends there.

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"Thai food has changed a lot over the years," she says. "On my last trip, it was hard to find really good Thai food in Bangkok. It's easy to find Kentucky Fried Chicken, though." There, she says, American fast food is served with jasmine rice and chili sauce.

The menu at Typhoon! reflects the broad range of Thai-food styles and flavors that Bo knew as a child, from street snacks to court food. But what makes Bo's food unique is the brightness and singularity of its flavors. While she does employ some commercially prepared curry pastes, she enhances them with palm sugar in one dish, sprigs of fresh holy basil leaves in another, fresh kafir lime leaves in yet another. And she trains the cooks at each of her restaurants to do the same thing.

"If you order Pad Thai from my restaurants in Portland," she says, "I want to make sure it tastes just the same as when you ordered it in Seattle or Redmond."
Bo Kline, preparing Spicy String Bean Stir-Fry, oversees the kitchens at all four Typhoon! restaurants.
Henry's infatuation with Typhoon! and with Thai food in general began shortly after his 13th birthday. I had arranged for my family to pick me up in the city after a meeting at the Typhoon! on Western Avenue, where Wild Ginger used to be. As it turned out, my wife sent Henry in to find me so she could stay in the car with our younger son, Erich. When he came in, a lot of food was still on the table, and he decided to try it.

He took a tentative bite of a cold beef salad with onions and lime. "This is really good, Dad," he said. "Have a little rice," I said, thinking the plain white rice would soothe his shocked palate. (This is the child who once vexed his parents by eating only white food — white chicken, white rice, white bread — for what seemed like years.)

"I'd like to try that fish," he said. It was Bo's Pine Cone Fish, a shapely form of fried halibut with chilies and lime. "Go ahead," I said, "but be careful, I know you don't like spicy stuff."

"This is really good, Dad," he said again, devouring the fish and reaching for the plate of green beans. "Those have red chilies!" I said. "And garlic."

"If you're not going to eat those," he countered, "I'll finish them off. Why don't you cook like this?" Good question. I used to cook spicy foods, but I thought kids didn't like that sort of thing.

I was wrong.

Not only does Henry love Thai food, but he has made a convert of his 10-year-old brother. Since that fateful day, our pantry is perpetually stocked with curry pastes, coconut milk, ginger, garlic and fish sauce. These days, a winter squash that might once have been simply steamed gets simmered in a red curry-scented bath of coconut milk, modeled after Bo's Winter Curry. And kale that might have been sautéed with garlic gets a generous dose of fresh ginger and grated palm sugar.

Since the initial Typhoon! visit, Henry has gained experience. On road trips, his eyes are peeled for signs of Thai restaurants. He likes Tom Kah Gai, the traditional soup flavored with lemongrass and lime juice. He can't decide what his favorite dish is, but his opinionated little brother says Spicy String Bean Stir-Fry is the best. Who knew?

Greg Atkinson is a Bainbridge Island writer. Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.