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A TASTE OF THEIR OWN

On our way to Oviedo for some culinary adventuring, we drove down roads forged through what was formerly a canopy of pine trees. Instead of our usual downtown Thai favorites, we were headed to a different neighborhood to give Thai Basil a try. Imagine our shock when we walked in the door and found a familiar face.

Irene, who had waited on us often at Thai House, greeted us with her ever-present smile. Remembering that the last Thai place I reviewed, Red Bamboo on Kirkman Road, was also connected to Thai House, I started wondering if maybe there is a Thai-restaurant conspiracy operating here in Orlando. But one thing is for sure, this "family" makes great food.

The dining room was altogether more stylish than the ones in our neighborhood. The rich purple- and avocado-colored walls struck a statement; sleek design elements such as silver-patterned ceiling tiles, mixed with warm, frivolous pieces, like miniature watercolors hung from gossamer ribbons with opulent bows. Nine modernist, cubed wall-hangings clung to the back wall trying to look cosmopolitan. The way it was put together so tastefully – in that Pottery Barn kind of way – reminded me that we were in the suburbs.

Irene opened Thai Basil seven months ago, and chose Winter Springs because she wanted to carve out new territory in the Thai restaurant scene without competing with her former employers. She brought along some co-workers from Thai House, and although most were welcoming and accommodating, none were as friendly as Irene.

We started our meal with smoky-sweet Thai iced tea, the culinary version of tasty pipe tobacco. I also ordered a glass of tropical fruit juice, a blend of mango, papaya and carrot, because a waiter had breezed past with one moments before.

The green papaya salad ($8.95) was a refreshing appetizer whose flavors – lime juice, chilis, papaya and tomatoes – came together as something wholly different than merely the sum of its parts. The pad Thai ($8.95) was also very good – nicely savory, with a hint of sweetness hovering over the acidic twist of lime squeezed in at the last minute. And, something else I appreciate, the pad Thai wasn't overly eggy and but was more than a little saucy.

The tom kha gai soup ($3.50), a coconut-milk soup with chicken, was worthy but a little watery. Plentiful onions and mushrooms enhanced the broth and gave texture. Small cilantro leaves floated on the top.

A dish that didn't fare as well was the Panang curry. My husband described it as "spicy enough to be interesting," but I thought it needed a heaping dose of salt. The choice of chicken, beef, pork or tofu was superfluous, because although we ordered beef, there was hardly any in there. Instead, beautifully cooked vegetables – just-shy-of-crisp snow peas and bell peppers – filled the sauce.

Winter Springs is lucky that Thai Basil has joined the arsenal of dining options in the area. I'll stick to my own neighborhood Thai restaurant, but strongly suggest that Winter Springers stick to theirs.

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