The new Real Thai Kitchen still offers a huge selection of fresh, house-made and delectable dishes
When Real Thai Kitchen changed hands, I was understandably concerned. This was a kitchen that made curry pastes from scratch, which didn't hold back on traditional ingredients, and which knew that if you asked for "Thai Spicy" you understood the consequences. With some attractive decor changes, the addition of Sunday dinner, and a beautiful color photo menu, I still recognize some faces, including the chef's. Thai Kitchen's weekday lunch buffet ($8.95) offers a quick and flavorful midday repast. It typically includes Tom Kha coconut-based soup with cabbage and tofu, a crisp green salad with peanut dressing, fruit, white and brown rice, and eight hot dishes, of which the curries tend to be the spiciest. Still, if you'd like more heat, ask for a condiment tray which includes ground chilies and chili paste.
Mixed vegetables swam in a sweet yellow curry and chicken breast was featured in a salty pineapple curry with fresh chilies. A sauté of fresh jalapeño and pork included straw mushrooms and vegetables in a salted brown sauce. Tofu and bright vegetables were coated with creamy, rich, thick peanut sauce. I also enjoy an adventurous evening meal at Real Thai Kitchen, ignoring my absolutely favorite green curry and delving deeper into the menu. Little cups filled from a large carafe of warmed sake ($6.50) always ward off the evening chill. They are typically followed by a shared 22-ounce bottle of Sapporo beer ($6.50). I love the restaurant's Tom Yum soup with its hot and sour broth, but this time we tried a bowl of Ginger Chicken ($7.95). A heady ginger aroma arose from the clear broth which included chicken, cabbage, cilantro, green onion, al dente broccoli, and carrot. Isan, the country's poorest region in the Northeast where descendents of neighboring Cambodia and, across the Mekong River, Laos, are extremely fond of hot chilies and known for two popular salads. We chose minced beef for the Larb ($9.45) which was as fiery as I had hoped. Riddled with ground, dried red chilies, red onions, topped with sweet mint leaves and dressed with spicy lime sauce, it was served with crisp romaine and shredded carrot. Guiltless Green Papaya Salad ($9.45) included julienne strips of white fruit, carrot, romaine, tomato wedges, crisp green beans, fresh red chilies and crunchy peanuts with a spicy-sour citrus dressing. The B.B.Q. Chicken ($10.45) was even better than before. Three sweetly glazed, marinated boneless-skinless chicken thighs were tender and smoky and served with fresh and blanched vegetables and mild, syrupy chili-plum sauce. Thai Kitchen's sautéed dishes include Spicy Basil ($9.45). This milder lean pork dish in a thin brown sauce was loaded with succulent basil, and included bamboo shoots, green beans, colorful bell peppers, carrots and fresh jalapenos. The Red Pumpkin Curry ($12.95) from the specials board was delectable. Chunks of earthy, soft pumpkin, chicken breast, and large tail-on shrimp shared a sweet pumpkin-colored coconut milk curry with red and green bell peppers and basil.
Real Thai Kitchen, 1632 Seabright Ave. (at Soquel Ave.), Santa Cruz, 427-2559. Beer and wine. Serving lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and Saturday noon to 3 p.m.; Dinner nightly at 5 p.m. Visit menustation.com.
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