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Westside Thai's One On

[whitespace] Ellen Saranyaphi-phat
George Sakkestad

My Thai: Ellen Saranyaphi-phat, owner of Westside Thai, creates spicy, fragrant Thai classics.

Westside Thai Restaurant fills in the menu on the Westside's expanding restaurant gold coast

By Christina Waters

JACK IMMEDIATELY was charmed by the starched silk lotus blossoms perched on each table like an Indonesian landscape. There's no doubt about it, Westside Thai Restaurant has beautifully reinvented the restaurant space formerly known as Michael's Westside Cafe. Spearheaded by the folks who own and operate Seabright's Real Thai Kitchen as well as Capitola's beautiful Paradise Sushi, the newest Mission Street restaurant stands out in the Westside neighborhood's galaxy of ethnic dining rooms.

A carved wooden awning curves over the serving counter, and vibrant wall hangings of native arts and crafts add further exotic ambiance. Deep green linens and the glorious aromas of ginger, garlic, lemongrass and basil go a long way in welcoming inquiring diners in need of a Thai fix--that would be Jack and me.

We armed ourselves with an icy Singha beer ($3.50)-- one of the great malty liquors of the world and the perfect mate to spicy Thai cuisine--and a glass of fruity Monterey Vineyard Chardonnay ($4.50), and combed the extensive menu for ideas. Thai cuisine is endlessly inventive in its ability to balance intricate seasonings. Curries are tamed with the natural sweetness of coconut milk and pineapple, or made savory with kaffer lime leaves. Perfuming herbs, like fresh mint, cilantro and basil, form the bottom notes of many specialties, while the citrusy bite of lemongrass is often combined with pungent fresh ginger. Your mouth feels like it's been shot through white-water rapids on a faraway island--at least ours did after we were finished with dinner.

A word to the wise--the "medium" designation is fiery. By mid-meal we were dabbing sweat off our brow and grateful for the cooling influence of our beer and wine. Thai salads are invariably inventive blends of a bit of meat mixed with zesty fresh herbs and spices, served over beds of lettuce or noodles. We were quite happy with Number 11--Yam Ma Khour ($8.55), a pretty salad of shrimp, chopped cilantro, red onions and luscious charbroiled Thai eggplants on a bed of shredded lettuce laced liberally with basil, mint and an incendiary red chile sauce.

Our classic Thai satay ($6.95) appetizer was perfection. We opted for the skewered chicken that arrived barbecued to proper moistness and served with rich, sweet peanut sauce and sweet marinated cucumber salad.

Our lips were tingling by the time our main dishes arrived along with a beautiful deep orange enamel container of fragrant white rice. Scooping out portions with a flat wooden paddle, we proceeded to sample our entrees. The pad Thai ($7.55) was a well-made, unspectacular version of the national dish of Thailand. Wide, turmeric-gilded rice noodles had been stir fried with some shrimp, bits of chicken, egg and strips of tofu.

Our curry dishes definitely got our attention. I believe Jack said something like "Yeow, I really love this," as he mopped his brow after a bite of the Number 24--a spicy green curry laced with coconut milk and the buttery flavor of green bell peppers, as well as peas and plenty of sweet Thai basil ($7.55).

Our roasted duck with red curry--Number 27--was plushly sauced with tomatoes, spinach and coconut milk ($8.55). Complex and well-balanced between the tomato and red chile pepperiness, it was tamed, but not too much, by copious quantities of white rice.

For dessert, Jack chose something to calm his taste buds--an order of iced lichees ($2.50). A little bowl filled with the alabaster fruit--like nutty, plummy, almost perfumed grapes--was topped with ice cubes. A great finish for such spicy fare.

Westside Thai Restaurant
Address: 2238 Mission St., Santa Cruz
Phone: 831/469-3209
Hours: Open daily, lunch 11am-3pm, dinner 5-9:30pm
Ambiance: ** Very pleasant, unpretentious, neighborhood hangout
Service: *** Excellent and swift service, questions answered with a smile
Cuisine: ** 1/2 Very nicely done Thai standards, fresh ingredients and generous portions

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From the August 27 - September 2, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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