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Photograph by Brian Harker
THAIPHOON OF FLAVOR: The silver noodle salad and a Thai iced tea make a dandy noontime repast.

Keeping It Real

Real Thai Kitchen still delivers the spice

By Christina Waters

EVEN THOUGH its original founders are gone, Real Thai Kitchen is still capable of creating authentic dishes laced with the enduring flavors of chile, basil, ginger and garlic. On a recent excursion to the midtown eatery, the three of us had our mouths set for spice. And spice is what we got, punctuated by some unremarkable standards. Oddly enough, our dinner at Real Thai went against the general rule that appetizers are always more interesting than entrees.

Along with my glass of organic white wine from Naked Earth ($6)—Kate had water and Jack decided on an O'Doul's ($3)—we began with platters of chicken satay ($7.25), an order of steamed potstickers ($8) and something unusual in the way of stuffed chicken wings ($7.25). It was often challenging to make sure our order was understood, but our very friendly and eager waitress did her best to make a limited English vocabulary go the distance. The satay proved quite tasty, even though it arrived at something close to room temperature. Dipped into a thick, luscious peanut sauce, the skewers were satisfying to all. The steamed potstickers filled with ground chicken produced no detectable flavor whatsoever, and so we were grateful for the fiery chile sauce that accompanied. It certainly won't replace those incredible little shrimp and pork dumplings I remember from past Real Thai meals.

Next came a platter of stuffed chicken wings, deep-fried and overfilled with chicken, shrimp, mushrooms and silver noodles. This was a bizarre dish. Each wing was the size of two fists placed end on end. Almost entirely made up of crusted deep-fried skin and a 3-inch-thick slab of stuffing, the wings, like the potstickers, avoided any particular flavor. Again, sauces are a good idea, as was the nice plum sauce and zippy cucumber and cilantro relish saturated with sweet vinegar.

Things got interesting starting with one of my Thai favorites, the silver noodle salad ($10.25). This was a knock-out orchestration of cellophane bean thread noodles tossed with chiles, garlic, lemon grass, mint, cilantro and dried fermented shrimp, with fresh romaine chopped on the side, plus three fat prawns all strewn with ground chicken. Cilantro festooned it all. A huge portion, it was satisfyingly hot and spicy yet somehow cool, in temperature and attitude, at the same time. We oohed and aahed and wiped our brows.

Two other shared entrees impressed us, especially the house signature Spicy Basil Duck $14.45, loaded with jalapeņos, carrots, basil, chiles, strips of rich, succulent duck, lots of crisp green beans and fresh slices of red bell pepper all wok'd together in a complex curry sauce. Beautiful to look at, it was richly perfumed by the complex sauce.

Another entree of lemon sole ($15.50) involved a substantial fillet of white fish (which might have been previously frozen) bathed in a sweet/tart sauce of lemon zest, lemon grass, garlic and chiles. Tangy and hot, the sauce also included accompanying florets of broccoli and sprigs of cilantro. It was distinctive.

For my money, fiery cuisine cries out for something sweet at the end, and so we shared an order of warm sticky rice with mango ($4), which proved out-and-out addictive, a creamy closure to a meal of high-wattage flavors.

Real Thai Kitchen

1632 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz


Lunch 11am–3pm weekdays; dinner from 5:30pm nightly

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