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OK, so you won't get to sing along to the China Dolls' greatest hits. But what Napaisan does have to offer are some lyrical dinners, beautifully seasoned and not terribly expensive. The selection is not too different from the Thai Place menu (though his mother's signature dish, King & Ann chicken, seems to be missing).
The costly appetizers are a different story, though. I've resolved to eat many more of those basil wings, but some of the offerings, such as the fried egg rolls or the vegetarian egg rolls (which seem to be amazingly vegetable-free and stuffed mostly with cellophane noodles), are extremely greasy. Others, such as the eight bite-sized wonton purses containing crab rangoon, are crispy and greaseless -- but nothing to sing about.
Dinner portions are so generous that an appetizer may be too indulgent anyway. Even a bowl of soothing Tum Yum Gai soup -- fragrant and loaded with sliced chicken, lemongrass, lime juice and hard bits of gingery galanga root -- is enough to feed two or three.
The night I dined with interior designer Carol Ann, we shared two of this restaurant's more popular choices, ginger duck and "Shrimp and Scallop 3 Flavor Style." They were breathtaking from a visual standpoint, but the duck meat was a shade too chewy, and the glossy sauce glazing the tempura-fried shrimp and puffy scallops had two, not three, dominating flavors: sweet and hot. Still, it had Carol Ann swooning. "I know I should stop eating," she said between bites of shrimp and white rice, "but I just can't."
Good Thai dishes do seem to trigger the same sort of rush as slot machines, cocaine and foreplay. A few nights later, I watched my friend Marie get all hot and bothered after eating a lot of Pad Narm Prig Pow -- slices of beef cooked with a punchy roasted-chili paste, jalapeño and bell peppers. Flushed from the dish's spiciness, she confessed to my friend Zoe and me that she had scheduled a hot date after our dinner and "was really ready for it." Hearing that, I grabbed some of that lust-inducing beef for myself.
The three of us made an impressive dent in a dish of Pad Mamoung Hin Ma Parn, its soft tofu squares stir-fried with crunchy cashews, onion and broccoli. Zoe, who teaches a local Thai cooking class, is one of those vegetarians who occasionally nibbles on a piece of chicken or a particularly succulent shrimp. That night turned into such an occasion for her when the crispy garlic shrimp arrived from the kitchen: plump, sautéed crustaceans dotted with bits of fresh garlic piled on a colorful heap of sliced red peppers, julienned carrots, and broccoli and cauliflower florets. It was a lovely combination of flavors, but it didn't get my endorphins popping as much as a mound of basil fried rice did -- that dish was so intoxicating that I wanted to get undressed and roll around in the stuff, but I settled for eating almost all of the concoction myself.
I was in too much of a basil afterglow to consider dessert that night, but I had loved the creamy coconut ice cream on an earlier visit, so I encouraged Zoe and Marie to indulge themselves. Neither the coconut ice cream nor the mango version is made in the restaurant, but both taste remarkably fresh.
"I'm not even into ice cream," Marie admitted, "but this stuff rocks." Zoe thought the mango ice cream was as "light as a sorbet, but richer, of course, with just a hint of almond floating in there, too."