By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Three Buddies is a distant cousin: just substitute chicken for lobster tail and knock 12 bucks off the price. The red sauce isn't as complex as in the clay pot -- it lacks the wine -- but it's fiery and satisfying.
Eddie is semiretired now -- he comes in on weekends. Michael, now 37, shares chef duties and runs the business. Despite innovations in the menu and wine list, the essence of the place hasn't changed: gourmet food cooked with traditional methods and spices in a couple of intimately exotic rooms. The mood here is as mellow and romantic as ever, set by gigantic fish tanks and their serene inhabitants. Cozy booths tucked under a carved wooden arcade make excellent retreats for whispered conversations; it's so dark you have to blink to get your bearings. The wine list lets you know exactly where you are: in a world where people drink Roederer champagne and Opus One.
Or not. Frankly, the locals who throng this place -- it was packed a couple of Sundays ago at 6 p.m. -- are as comfortable drinking beer or jasmine tea with their samrod shrimp and masman chicken as anything else. Thai Spice is both beautiful and unpretentious; the service is well-informed and sweet.
1514 E. Commercial Blvd.
Oakland Park, FL 33334
Region: Oakland Park
TS: Lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner Sunday through Friday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m. Call 954-771-4535.
TS: 1514 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
We took home a box of Panang beef ($12.95) for next day's lunch. But it turned out we couldn't wait: We dug into it the second we got home and loved every blessed bite of it -- thin strips of meat simmered to a melting tenderness in a rich broth of coconut milk and curry paste, studded with green beans and fresh basil and finished with ground peanuts. Yum.
We were in the mood. We wanted more. So the next night, we made the drive to the middle of nowhere -- 441 and Lake Worth Road, to be exact. It's here, at a little 2-year-old restaurant called Tub Tim, that we found a few Thai dishes we'd never tried. There was marinated chicken breast wrapped in long strips of pandanus leaves and deep fried ($6); and green papaya salad ($6), slivers of the slightly sour, crunchy fruit tossed with tomatoes, carrots, chilies, and peanuts. The night's special was a plate of whole, soft-shelled crabs doused in a fiery green curry ($18). And the menu offered deep-fried frog legs cooked two ways: topped with black pepper and garlic sauce or with chilies and Thai herbs ($16).
Tub Tim means "pomegranate." The fruit has mystical and medicinal as well as culinary prowess -- Thais believe a tap from the pomegranate branch will send ghosts loping home. Along with tamarind and coconut, star fruit and long kong, it's one of the great exotic fruits of the east. You won't find it on the menu at Tub Tim, but no matter -- there's plenty to keep you enthralled. The chefs here use papaya and pumpkin, lychee, mango, lemon, and pineapple in wonderful profusion. A sour and spicy seafood salad ($12) incorporates the dusky flavors of mango into a cheerful mix of squid, shrimp, scallops, and lime juice. A typical stir-fry might toss cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, and pineapple together to enliven strips of beef or pork.
Tub Tim is a beautiful restaurant -- tangerine-colored walls, acres of intricately carved wood screening, a fish tank and a bar, a semi-open kitchen, festive strings of lights. Two slender and pretty Thai ladies in the front of the house are absolutely attentive and delightful, pulling off light-footed dances with hot plates of stir-fried squid and crispy roast duck despite the confines of their narrow silk skirts.
The food's as charming as their manners. You unwrap the chicken in pandanus leaves -- which impart a delicate, floral flavoring -- like tiny gifts and dunk them in a light, sweet sauce. One piece of ours, alas, was frighteningly undercooked; this could ruin a good meal and the kitchen needs to watch that. We savored the colorful, tart papaya salad and a simple, lovely soup of bean curd and clear broth ($4). They were two light refreshers before the heavier appetizer sampler for one ($15).
Take my word for it -- the "sampler portion for one" feeds two. A revolving wooden tray with a tiny lit burner in the center carries crisp, deep-fried "golden bags" stuffed with minced shrimp, chicken, corn, green peas, and sweet potatoes. There're also tender and luscious Thai dumplings bursting with chopped crab meat, chicken, and shrimp; skewers of chicken satay to warm up on the burner; dense triangular fish cakes spiced with curry; fried spring rolls brimming with chopped shrimp, clear noodles, and bamboo shoots; a round of sauces including an inspired, hot-sweet peanut dip -- richer and more complex than most others -- pineapple syrup, and sweet chili sauce.
When many Thais sit down to dinner, they share their food, so we split a plate of soft-shelled crabs ($18) -- rich and fatty, full of sweet, moist white meat with a satisfyingly crunchy crust. Paired with an unctuous green curry sauce with coconut milk and crisp snow peas, bamboo shoots, and baby corn, it was scrumptious. For dessert, we couldn't resist the superb Thai egg custard with pumpkin ($5), a labor-intensive delicacy introduced by the Portuguese and refined by generations of Thai cooks. And even though we declined an offer of tea, our ever-solicitous waitress brought us some anyway; she was convinced we needed cups of perfumey jasmine to complete the meal, and she was right.