By Nicole Danna
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TGIMS! Or Thank God It's Mango Season. Some heavenly creature long ago peered down at us suffering fools as we slogged through the swamps, swatting at mosquitoes and no-see-ums, dodging man-eating alligators and man-frying spikes of lightning, and blessed us with the only thing that could possibly make summer in South Florida worth the trouble: 20-plus varieties of mangoes from miniature "condo" bushes to four-story, sprawling trees. This perfect fruit, with its sunset colors and warm perfumes, its tart-bitter-stinging sugars and melting, buttery textures, has clearly been the only reason I've survived 11 successive Julys in Broward-Palm Beach. The mango reminds me that existence can be unbelievably sweet sometimes, that its joys can be plucked for free in the alley behind my house, and that, occasionally if rarely, something purely, sensuously pleasurable can turn out to be good for my health.
Thai people have a similar reverence for mangoes. Their mamuang season, in the hot months of April and May, just before the deluge begins, is greeted with great good cheer. Thais use green mangoes in salads and chutneys or dip them raw into fish sauce, sugar, and chili powder; they eat ripe mangoes for dessert with sticky rice doused in coconut milk and palm sugar and sprinkled with sesame seeds; they make them into cheesecakes and milkshakes; and they jar and pickle whatever's left over. Thais also revere mangoes because the tree is associated with the Buddha (you'll find them planted around Buddhist temples). And until the climate changes significantly, it's a crop they can count on, as they have for thousands of years.
When you go to Thai Bayshore restaurant, you'll find all kinds of gently bustling joy around the news that they have fresh mangoes and sweet sticky rice for dessert. My advice is to get over there and have some now, because mango season, like life itself, is all too brief. This is a treat you shouldn't miss, whether it comes at the end of a full meal of pad Thai and squid basil or eaten solo as an afternoon pick-me-up.
4838 N. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
A reader tipped me off to Thai Bayshore; his Thai wife swears by it. The restaurant is centrally located just south of Commercial Boulevard on Federal Highway; it's small enough (seating around 60) to be intimate, and it's family-run. The proprietors, from Bangkok, have been operating Thai restaurants locally for almost a decade, but they moved to their current location a little over two years ago. Husband Pat Siri runs the front of the house and helps in the kitchen; his wife, Nida, cooks; a daughter occasionally waitresses; the rest of the staff is tangentially related. The Siris have decorated this charming space with warm brick and honey-colored wooden floors, painted the walls deep maroon and butterscotch, and decorated sparsely with carved wooden screens, stately statues of the Thai Buddha, and a great stone relief sculpture, all chosen personally and shipped from Thailand. The wooden ceiling is deep black. A Buddha perched on his altar high on one wall appears to have been offered a glass of water. Hand-carved window screens hung along one side of the room are particularly beautiful, and the space is soothing, the soft lighting just right. Orchids nod from delicate painted vases on every table, lighted by candle lamps. A sound system plays unobtrusive classical piano music.
On our first visit, I made a big deal over the menu. I told Pat Siri that we were planning a trip to Thailand this winter (true) and asked for recommendations for traditional Thai food like "the foods we'll find in Thailand." I was hoping they'd serve us the most authentic flavors they could come up with. Our waiter recommended the tom yum kai soup ($2.95), the pad Thai ($10.95), and a basil sauce or curry with any choice of meat or fish (choose chicken, pork, beef, squid, shrimp, or scallops). We ate the soup and curry puffs ($5.95) as appetizers, squid with basil ($15.95) because squid can be difficult to render edible, and a "house special" seafood curry ($15.95) of shrimp, mussels, scallops, and squid with Thai curry paste and coconut milk. Thai Bayshore has a reasonably priced list of wines averaging around $22 a bottle, plus sake and Thai and Chinese beer, but we opted for a pot of tea.
Our little ploy worked beautifully, because every dish we tasted that night was stellar. State-of-the-art tom yum kai soup was served in an elegant geometric white bowl and was flavored with lemongrass, lime, a flowery note that I couldn't identify (maybe ginger), and supremely "chickeny" chicken pieces. Straw mushrooms and sliced scallions floated in the clear broth, and the effect was hot, sour, spicy, earthy, floral, and absolutely delicious.
Curry puffs were good too, a bit of chopped chicken, potato, and sweet potato mixed with curry powder, wrapped and fried in a spring roll, to be dunked in sweet cucumber sauce. These were basically yummy fast-food nibbles but without the mysterious complexity of the soup.
Plates were cleared; our gorgeous entrées arrived. A lot of care had gone into their presentation. Fresh vegetables and thumb-sized rolls of squid meat were piled artfully in the center of a white plate, decorated with Thai basil leaves and tiny bits of color from finely chopped red and green peppers. A long sprig of chive added a strip of pale green. My seafood curry was just as pretty: a pale, apricot-colored coconut cream curry sauce in which four shrimp, four huge mussels, four scallops, and lots of squid rolls had been arranged with bamboo shoots and super-thin strips of carrot. A dish of fragrant, moist white rice was served on the side.