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Lorraine, Cynthia and I felt like royalty sharing the Three Kings plate, which was heaped with three fat, soft spring rolls, three wonton-wrapped shrimp, and three ungreasy and splendidly crispy egg rolls, which Cynthia insisted were "the best in the city." Our server brought out a trio of sauces and a rigid set of rules: "The sweet-and-sour is for the egg rolls, the peanut is for the spring rolls, and the chili sauce is for the shrimp," he said. Or was it the other way around? It didn't matter. I recklessly spooned peanut sauce on the shrimp wrap and dunked the spring roll into the chili sauce (which wasn't very fiery).
Lorraine ordered the seafood phad Thai, a "signature item" on this menu (and on the Thai Place menus, too), which was generously laden with shrimp, scallops, mussels and crabmeat. She even turned up a stray piece of squid in there. Cynthia surprised us by ordering the catfish, which can be cooked in either a sweet basil sauce or a red curry. She chose the latter and was impressed by the presentation: The crispy fried fillets were served in a fish-shaped dish and slathered with peppers, Thai basil and mild red curry made with coconut milk.
I felt slightly theatrical, so I requested the King & I chicken and got positively woozy on the rum-marinated breast meat, sautéed with mushrooms, ginger and garlic.
There's no coconut ice cream here, alas. The dessert list was limited to sticky rice with fresh mango (which sounded too healthy) and fried bananas (which didn't). Cynthia wanted the bananas, and we all marveled at what came out of the kitchen: three bananas, swathed in sheaths of wonton, flash-fried and served with ice cream. "It's more like a state fair-style fried treat than something exotic," Cynthia said.
A couple of nights later, I returned to Bua Thai finding it very easily in my own wheels. I brought my friend Bob, who never can decide if he really likes Thai cuisine. He gave a thumbs up to Chaiprathum's joint, however, because there were menu items that sounded practically American to him such as a house salad. At Bua Thai, a traditional iceberg lettuce salad gets a stylish makeover with slices of mushroom, delicate ears of baby corn, bits of broccoli, curls of julienned carrots, a dusting of crushed peanuts and a splash of pale-pink vinaigrette. Bob ate every bite, then greedily snagged two of my cream-cheese summer rolls the same soft, rice-noodle-wrapped spring rolls stuffed with chopped vegetables, but with a dollop of cream cheese, too.
Bob impulsively ordered the most expensive dinner on the menu: East Meets West. He needed only to see the words steak, shrimp and scallops in the description of the dish. He was thrilled with this Thai version of surf 'n' turf. On half of the platter was a mound of marinated, chopped beef steak, sautéed with carrots, basil and mushrooms; on the other side was a bowl of silky peanut panang curry with plump scallops and pink shrimp hidden in its amber depths. "It's absolutely wonderful," Bob said as he dipped bits of steak into the peanut sauce. (He had polished off the seafood already.) "The peanut curry is so addictive, I can't stop eating it."