Grub Scout: Campus-area spot will curry favor with Asian-food fans

Jai Dee Thai & Japanese Cuisine

UT/Fort Sanders - Knoxville

823 Melrose Place

865-249-7539

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I have to admit that my short list of restaurants to try is getting pretty short. Fortunately, it had been a few months since I'd been to an Asian-food eatery, so Jai Dee Thai & Japanese Cuisine coming up in the rotation was well timed.

We had The Grub Sprout home from college for a visit, so we were once again a trio as we headed to Jai Dee, which is sandwiched between Gus's Good Times Deli and The Golden Roast on Melrose.

Our visit was strategically timed to fall during Christmas break so we wouldn't have to contend with throngs of students and their vehicles. As such, we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves. We showed ourselves to a booth, and were immediately greeted by one of the owners, menus in hand.

The selection of main entrees is categorized as Thai, although the largest grouping of dishes could easily get by on a Japanese menu. This includes your choice of chicken, beef, pork, tofu or shrimp sauteed in a variety of complementary ingredients, such as mixed vegetables, baby corn and mushrooms, ginger, and garlic and pepper.

The Sprout ordered the cashew nuts entree with beef, carrots, celery, onion and bell pepper, while The Grub Spouse got the teriyaki chicken prepared in a steamed-vegetable mix.

The Thai influences are more pronounced in the section of several curry dishes (red, green, panang, massaman, etc.), featuring common elements such as coconut milk, bamboo shoots and carrots. I wound up in the noodles/fried rice category, where the Pad Thai won out over the likes of Pad See-ew, Pad Woon Sen and Pad Lad Na. The Pad Thai features rice noodles sauteed with bean sprouts, scallions, ground peanuts and egg. I ordered mine with pork.

We started off, however, with an order of sushi, which would serve as an appetizer. The sushi selection is quite extensive and is the largest Japanese component of the menu. They offer traditional rolls like tuna, salmon and eel as well as cooked rolls, cucumber-wrapped rolls, combination rolls and termaki rolls.

I was drawn most to the section of special rolls, which bear such non-sequitur titles as Sex on the Beach, Dragon Roll, Pink Lady Roll and Rainbow Roll. I got the Triple Crown Roll made with tuna, salmon, Hamachi, avocado, sesame seeds and masago.

The Sprout and I both thought this roll was excellent. They didn't skimp on the fish, and the rice wrapping was fresh. It was a beautiful, multifaceted presentation, both on the plate and on the palate.

The entrees, which come with rice and either miso soup or salad, were likewise well done and served in generous portions. Personally, I thought the Pad Thai was a little better than the other two dishes, but that's mainly just personal preference based on the preponderance of noodles.

However, the two stir-fried entrees delivered plenty of meat, and the veggies were cooked to ideal texture — not too crisp, not too mushy. A couple of pieces of beef were a little more sinewy than I would have preferred, but it was no biggie. Also, the sides of white rice were cooked to perfection — fresh, sticky and tender all the way.

Granted, we had little to zero competition for the owners' attention, but they took really good care of us and were super gracious and hospitable. So even when all the UT kids are absent, Jai Dee still gives it the ol' college try.

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Jai Dee Thai & Japanese Cuisine

Food: 4

Service: 4

Atmosphere: 3.5

Overall: 4

Address: 823 Melrose Pl.

Phone: 865-249-7539

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 to 10 p.m. Sundays

No alcohol service

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Bottom Line: From curry to sushi, enjoy a wide range of Asian dishes served fresh at this eatery located just off the Cumberland Strip.

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