By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Lovely to look at, they made even better eating. The vegetables in the squid basil curry were zesty, varied, full of crunch: thinly sliced onions, chopped green beans, snow peas, zucchini, slivers of carrot, red peppers, and green peppers, tossed with the gently licorice-scented Thai basil leaves, garlic, chili pepper, and tender, savory squid, toothsome but never tough. The sauce was piquant and quite hot from the chilies. My curry was just as pleasurable, rich, creamy, and layered, most generous with the seafood. I don't much like the big mussels served at Thai restaurants; they're too gamey. But shrimp, scallops, and squid were all damned fine representations of their species, each clearly and cleanly flavored with its own shrimpness or scallopness or squidness. Both these dishes were terrific, and there was lots left over to take home and reheat the next day.
As noted, the mango/sticky rice dessert was a grand finale. I'm not sure which variety of mango we were served, but it was finely textured and aromatic, and it married in a lovely way with the sweet coconut-milk-flavored rice ($6.95).
I took my father back the following week. He traveled in Thailand last year, and he loves Thai food. He's also one of the few people I know willing to eat frog legs (Thai Bayshore serves them three ways: with garlic, basil, or curry sauce, for $15.95), and I knew he'd go for them. As predicted, he did, ordering them in curry. I wanted pad Thai. And we decided to try tiger's tears salad ($6.95) and Eskimo shrimp ($6.95) as starters.
This time around, we didn't fuss to our waiter about how we wanted "authentic Thai." We just ordered, and the food we were served was blander, sweeter, and less complex. Was it a fluke? Or was somebody looking out for our digestive systems? Maybe these dishes were just inherently less spicy.
The tiger's tears, your basic Thai beef salad, had delicious flavor ground spices, lime, and onions, but the beef was tough, chewy, really hard to cut. Red and green peppers were fresh, but a tomato was cardboardy and tasted vaguely of bleach. Wonton-wrapped and fried Eskimo shrimp ($6.95), advertised as stuffed with ground chicken and crab, had almost none of either or just a pinch so small as to add zero flavor.
My pad Thai was, again, beautifully presented. Nida Siri is a plate artist. An enormous mound of silky noodles was tossed in salty-sour fish sauce, sprinkled with ground peanuts, and generously larded with chicken and shrimp. I asked for lime wedges, and a squeeze or two sharpened up the flavors. My father's frog legs were tender, and there were lots of them. But he wanted more spice in the coconut curry sauce and finally pronounced them too bland. Customers came and went in a steady stream. A Thai family came in, an American guy with a Thai woman, and an old Thai gentleman who sat by himself. Young people drifted in and out with big bags of takeout, and elderly ladies in groups ordered chicken cashew and chili fish a deep-fried whole snapper with hot pepper and garlic sauce. On both visits, we'd eaten like kings and spent $64 with tip and tax.
If I lived nearby, I'd gleefully take on the challenge of eating my way through this menu from fried rice to sweet and sour whole fish and the bayshore duck, but I'd do it asking for "spicy" and extra lime wedges. I'd let the Siris know I was no faint-palated weakling. I hardly blame them for trying to please the less courageous eaters who may be regulars here but I know they can punch it up when they want to. So if you're a purist, tell them you want to eat like a Thai. My instincts tell me they'll be way happy to provide.