A large selection of mild Thai flavors awaits you at Thai House
On the way to our daughter’s apartment, we stopped in L.A.’s Thai Town. Although there is now much diversity, we did find an Oriental market that had all of the ingredients I was looking for. We had prior plans for lunch and I’ve been craving Thai food ever since. Aside from some worn upholstered booths, Santa Cruz’s Thai House redecorated a former ice cream shop with live plants, elaborate carvings, and Burmese architectural elements, offering diners an elegant sojourn.
The good news: Thai House has reasonably priced lunch special entrées ($6.95 to $9.90), served from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. weekdays, with soup, rice and salad. A number of soups, salads, barbecue dishes, and hot pots ($6.95 to $10.95) are also available.
I ordered lunch from the regular menu, as well as some take-out for dinner. Five delightful Chicken Skewers ($6.95) bearing grill marks had been marinated in turmeric and other spices. The perfectly cooked thin slices, with a hint of chili heat, were served with chunky, thick, sweet peanut sauce, a salad of cucumbers, matchstick carrots and red onion in a sweet vinegar dressing, and shaved red cabbage.
The amazing unsweetened iced tea with lime offered the same slight touch of spice and bitterness as the better known sweet, supersaturated Thai iced tea.
Steam from the bowl of Hot and Sour Soup ($3.95) was scented with galangal. Green onion, lemon grass, cilantro and a slice of tomato joined thin slices of chicken breast. Fresh sliced mushrooms were added just before serving. It was neither as hot nor as sour as I am accustomed to, but the large serving was quite filling and healthy.
The thin, pale Green Curry ($8.95) sauce was adequately spicy for my palate, and held soft, frilly-edged carrots, green beans, large pieces of tree fungus, zucchini, strips of bamboo shoot, bell peppers and plenty of fresh basil. I find the sweet nuttiness of brown rice ($2.50) pairs excellently with Thai curries.
At dinner we enjoyed the take-out. Larb Gai ($6.95) is a salad, this one topped with minced and cooked chicken breast, carrot, red onion, mint and cilantro. I found the sour lime dressing overpowering.
The Mieng Khun Thai Wrap ($6.95) would make a lovely shared appetizer, and at home you could also turn it into a salad. The set-up for these “roll your own” spinach wraps included a delicious sweet, syrupy, and intensely flavored ginger dressing, red and green bell peppers, peanuts, toasted coconut, and a salsa of red onions, slivers of lime, and cubes of fresh ginger. With the small size of the spinach leaves, it was more an act of folding than rolling, but I was surprised at how well all of the sharp flavors mellowed each other. This healthy dish is worth lingering over.
Him Ma Parn ($8.95), or Cashew Dish, was also very good; a stir-fry with thin slices of lean pork, sliced baby corn cobs, cucumber, carrot and celery in a dark and salty sauce just hinting of sugar. If you like it spicy, go ahead and eat the incendiary whole, dried chilies.
Thai House, 353 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 458-3546. Beer and wine. Photos by Karen Petersen.