Bangkok by way of Roma

The tiny bistro is set inconspicuously in the center of Robinson Crossing at Interstate 35 and Robinson, a strip mall anchored by Starplex Cinemas and a Braum’s Ice Cream & Dairy. Jana’s is open for lunch and dinner daily, except Sunday, when it’s closed entirely.

The dining room is small and pleasantly tranquil. Like the menu, it reflects the dual cultures represented. Intricate Thai tapestries, woven elephant pictures and classical dancers carved in rosewood grace the walls. Over the counter are decorative flasks of olive oil and colorful boxes of imported pasta.

Jana and Tinky Ruangrit own and operate the restaurant. Both learned the Asian side of cooking in their native Thailand. Jana Ruangrit learned Italian cooking from Patsy Benso at Othello’s in Norman, where she worked for many years.

right Chicken panang pizza and sweet basil fish grace the menu at Jana’s Restaurant in Norman.

“Except for cheese, many of the ingredients are shared in Italian and Thai cooking,” she said. “Both use a lot of peppers, garlic and basil.”

Although Jana’s has been in this same location for 15 years, it has the feel of being undiscovered.

“Most of our regular customers live nearby,” she said. “We’ve known some for 20 years, and they eat the same thing every time. As they walk from their car, I know which pan to put on the stove.”

The combination of two quite different cooking styles is not a gimmick. The menu items is evenly divided between Thai or Italian, with a couple dozen entrée choices, appetizers, salads and desserts from each cuisine.

“We serve about 50/50 of each side,” Tinky Ruangrit said. “Some days may be more Thai, and the next, more Italian.”

A couple of dishes are a Thai- Italian hybrid.

“Spaghetti Kapow ($10.75) is a Thai stir-fry of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, veggie or shrimp served over pasta,” Jana Ruangrit said.

Chicken panang pizza ($8.59) is a spicy mammer jammer, just like all good Thai should be. Jana’s serves its Thai food cooked to order on a 0-10 flamethrower scale.

That said, I was warned not to ask for any of the curry dishes with zero hot-cha-cha because they fire up at around level four, and that’s just the way it is. Anyone who has ever cooked with Thai green curry paste knows that stuff is incendiary, even in miniscule doses.

There’s no full-service bar, but they serve domestic ($3) and imported ($4) beers. Thai iced coffee ($3), mango juice ($2) and various iced teas ($2) are also on hand to quench the flames.

The artichoke pasta ($10.75) is a delectable dish with chunks of tomato, kale and onions in a light sauce topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. and served with garlic toast.

Like the menu, the dining room reflects the dual cultures.

The pasta dishes range from one with an unadorned tomato sauce ($7.51) to chicken cacciatore ($8.59) and eggplant parmigiana ($8.59). If you’re scratching your head because of the odd pricing, it’s because sales tax is included.

Several vegetarian choices are regular menu items, including vegetable lasagna ($8.59), mushroom pasta ($8.59) and pesto pasta ($8.59). Most of the Thai dishes have vegan versions, if the fermented fish sauce is left out. These dishes vary between the traditional peanut and bean sprout flavors or Chinese-influenced black bean sauce and broccoli.

Dessert was our meal’s most memorable taste. It was elegant simplicity — juicy, ripe mango slices served on a bed of sticky rice cooked with sugar and coconut milk — both luscious and refreshing. The European dessert counterpoint is tiramisu ($3.51) made in-house.

We said “Arrivederci” to our efficient server, Angie Thongluan, and she responded in kind, saying the Thai equivalent, “Sawatdee.”

Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.

Doug Hill

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