“Great food can happen in a casual restaurant for a fair price.” This could be the mantra for Tot, a top-notch new restaurant that opened in early June in the old Cantwell’s building at 310 Oak Street when Chun’s shut its doors after ten years at this site. Before opening, Sean Simpson and Andrew Will, co-owners and brothers-in-law, spent six weeks gutting the kitchen, thoroughly cleaning all the equipment, redoing all the floors, installing an eating bar (made from 100 year-old salvaged Southern hard pine-illegal to cut after 1910), lovely wooden planks they refinished to decorate the walls, and refinished, reupholstered chairs they salvaged from an old church in Central Point. Attention to detail is obvious in all this renovation, right down to a bright orange wall and tile floors in the roomy restroom. This is a dream coming true for Andrew, who has been cooking professionally for over fifteen years, primarily in restaurants in Seattle. The Southeast Asian food Andrew and Sean loved in these larger cities is what Andrew cooked for his family and friends while working in fine local restaurants, waiting for the right location to open up. Tot is in a great neighborhood, with ample parking, and an outer courtyard with an atrium, skylights, and live plants when customers prefer a garden setting. Soon there will be seating outside as evenings cool, with picnic tables and umbrellas.
Andrew chose to serve my friend, Dorothy, and me a meal of his choosing when we came on a hot Saturday night into this cool,
attractive and well-lit restaurant. Usually customers come to the front counter, choose what they want from the selection on a large blackboard (on take-out menus, too), pay upfront and await their food as they choose a table or a seat at the eating bar. We began with drinks, a Thai Iced Tea for Dorothy, Coconut Juice with pulp for me. Both were refreshing on a hot night. A liquor license for beer and wine is on its way, but for now the other drink choices include Vietnamese Coffee, Coke, and Organic Green Tea.
Andrew was trained as a French chef. This becomes evident in the tasteful, simple presentation of each dish, with all homemade sauces, curry pastes, soup stocks, sausage, mayonnaise, and pate. Textures blend with subtle use of spices, and it tastes exquisite, unlike anything I’ve ever created from even the best of Sunset recipes. Our first entree was a yummy Thai-inspired salad of marinated papaya, cucumber, and bok choy, topped with grilled tofu and a tasty dressing including lime and crushed bits of peanuts. It was crisp and a delight to our palates! Dorothy found the spring roll delicious, and the House Tots (tot is Vietnamese for “good”) made from potatoes and rice with BBQ sauce or peanut sauce are popular snacks, along with Siu Mai, pork and shrimp dumplings ($6).
We also tried the BBQ Beef Brisket, served with Thai jasmine rice and pickled vegetables. It was tender and delicious. Other main dishes are BBQ Pork, BBQ ribs, grilled game hen (the above are all $11 or $12) or grilled veggies with peanut sauce ($9).
A woman sitting at the eating bar had Banh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich topped with pickled daikon and carrots, jalapenos and cilantro on a fresh baguette from a local bakery. These lunch or dinner sandwiches come in beef brisket, sliced pork, meatball or grilled veggies, costing $6, an affordable hearty meal. Another happy customer called to ask ahead if she could have vegan, no salt, and no oil. Andrew is happy to accommodate and work with customers’ allergies and dietary restrictions. There is no MSG used, and most organic produce comes from Blue Fox farm in the Applegate. Tot is a proud server of Ichigo cakes, and also features surprises Andrew dreams up too, like the chocolate mousse with cherries and ginger that Dorothy and I shared; it was superb.
The soup we enjoyed was a delicate curry rice noodle soup with a spicy coconut broth, and for texture and taste, it had mushrooms, tomatoes, and a topping of cilantro. It was a complement to the BBQ beef brisket, and servings were generous enough we had some soup and brisket to take home and enjoy the next day. This is the best curried coconut soup I’ve ever had!
The attention to detail, the high quality, often local ingredients, and the friendliness of the staff including our waitress, Ila, made this a memorable, pleasurable evening. By the time we left about seven, the place was full of patrons enjoying their meals. There are daily specials and orders to go. Call the staff at (541) 488-7986 if you are interested in these options.
Andrew also prepares a special each Friday called Pho. This is a Vietnamese beef noodle soup (the broth takes three days to prepare) with all the fixings, served Fridays, 11:30 am until it is gone! You can get a quick meal for $6, or stay for longer to socialize with friends in a casual, upbeat atmosphere. Their intention is primarily to serve the local community, and the location is great if you’re in the Railroad District near A Street, or checking out the galleries along Oak St. or Rogue Books in the same building. Tot offers affordable, tasty plays on Asian food six days a week (closed on Sundays). Hope you’ll enjoy your experience at Tot, too!
On the menu, vegetarian dishes are noted with an asterisk. TOT is open Monday-Saturday 11:30-8:00. They take orders to go and have daily specials. Call