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Real Thai, anyone?

A genuine gift to Thai food lovers and first-timers arrives on the scene in New Port Richey.

By Barbara Fredricksen
Published October 22, 2004

A new and exciting Thai restaurant has arrived on the burgeoning dining scene in and around downtown New Port Richey, adding a new flavor to old favorites Cafe Grand, Ganko Sushi Bar, Vincenzo's, Juan's Black Bean Deli and newcomer Spoonbill's Riverside Grill (formerly Garden Gate at Only the Best!).

Named Thai Bistro, it's the creation of Thai natives Preecha Paksupun and Sakulyut Sivarak, who have a lot of experience in the restaurant business, both in the United States and in their home country. Joining them is Paksupun's sister, Pawida Wipawaburt, who recently earned her master's degree in business administration at Schiller International University in Dunedin and is in charge of the well-run dining room.

The trio gutted the former Jade Fountain Chinese restaurant on Main Street and redecorated it top to bottom in authentic Thai decor with imported Thai art, hand-carved medallions, brocade and damask pillows, and tablecloths with the symbol of Thailand, the elephant. Enhancing the atmosphere are lamps with soft alabaster shades over each booth, bowls and vases of fresh roses, and blue and white china plates and bowls imported from Thailand.

Next to the porchlike foyer, they built a small stage, where starting early next year, Ms. Wipawaburt and other Thai women will perform Thai dances in traditional dress during dinner.

Even without dancing, there is plenty to bring foodies to the Thai Bistro: wonderful cookery and unobtrusive but attentive and knowledgeable service.

Don't worry: The owners know that locals don't always go for the hot Thai chilis and have modified their dishes to suit local tastes.

"Actually, not every Thai food is spicy," Ms. Wipawaburt said. "It depends where it's from. I come from Bangkok, which has not-so-hot food. In the eastern part of Thailand, it's really, really spicy."

Those who like the hot stuff can ask their server to have the kitchen include it, or they can request the four little jars of mild to fiery condiments and add it themselves.

First-timers will be happy to know that Thai food is eaten with knife, fork and spoon, not chopsticks, which, in Southeast Asia, are used only by the Vietnamese.

The lunch menu offers appetizers, soups and 27 entrees - chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, squid or scallop in red or green curry, brown sauce or the sweetish Thai chili paste. Paksupun makes all the sauces, which are what differentiate each Thai restaurant's cuisine and make this one so special. Lunches come with a spring roll and a modest bowl of soup.

For our first lunch, we went for the standards - Pad Thai and green curry - and were pleasantly surprised that the Pad Thai soft-pedaled the sweet stuff and let the delightfully subtle flavors come through. The green curry would have improved with less dilution of the coconut milk.

Later visits were most satisfying; the basil and hot pepper beef with garden vegetables and Thai red curry were as flavorful as anyone could want.

The dinner menu is a knockout, with 81 dishes - noodles, frog legs, duck, meats and seafood - plus a dozen macrobiotic offerings.

Light appetites would be happy with the Thai Bistro sampler for two ($7.95), a collection of crispy egg rolls stuffed with veggies, spring rolls with meat, shrimp and veggies in rice wrapper, crab rangoon (little purselike wontons stuffed with crab meat, cheese and a hint of curry - yummy-yummy), curry puffs (meat and potato morsels), and shrimp fried in a tempura and flour batter that is not at all greasy, all with two dipping sauces. Each of these can be ordered in larger portions for $2.95 to $6.95.

Medium appetites could do that, plus share an entree for an additional $3.

We chose Amazing Egg Plant ($10.95) on one visit, Fancy Duck ($12.95) on another, and Chili Jam Duck on a third, all of which were delectable. The eggplant was cut into chunks, battered and lightly fried, then piled onto al dente veggies and topped by a savory, sizzling peanut sauce. Both duck dishes had crisp vegetables and duck with a layer of juicy, crisp fat on top, each distinguished by a special sauce.

Dining companions shared the Shu-Shi Shrimp ($13.95), a row of tender, plump, perfectly seasoned grilled jumbo shrimp with straw mushrooms and curry sauce, and lightly fried calamari ($5.95) that was as tender as the shrimp.

My only disappointment was the rather bland, broth-based lunchtime soup, which could be livened up with sprigs of lemongrass and/or some minced and toasted galanga, the mild ginger found in many Thai dishes, or toasted garlic.

Thai Bistro also has an impressive list of imported Asian and domestic beers and wines, saki, and a white Yamato plum wine that is not as sweet or heavy as a red plum wine.

For dessert, try homemade coconut ice cream, doughnut sticks with sweet dipping cream or crunchy banana coins - bite-sized bits of banana wrapped, fried and topped with honey and sesame seeds ($1.50-$2.95).

A bonus is Ms. Wipawaburt, who enjoys telling customers a bit of this and that about Thailand and explaining the history of the exquisite clothing she and her associates wear on the weekends.

If you go

WHAT: Thai Bistro

WHERE: 5414 Main St., New Port Richey

WHEN: Lunch ($4.95-$6.95) 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner ($5.95-$16.95) 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

RESERVATIONS: Recommended evenings, especially weekends. Call (727) 815-8600.

[Last modified October 22, 2004, 01:09:27]

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