Restaurant >Siamese dream
While there is a host -- nay, horde -- of sushi bars within walking distance of Lake Eola, we haven't seen very much Thai food downtown, which is odd considering how much pad Thai can be found elsewhere.
One of the places known for that sweet, sticky rice-noodle dish is Thai Cuisine on Edgewater Drive. This was where my partner and I had our first chicken sate and spring rolls together, and I remember the food cooked by its original owners (since changed) quite fondly. Those owners, it turns out, were the parents of the young people who opened Sawadee Thai on Kirkman in 2001, a restaurant I quite liked. Now those (still) young folks, lead by Odum Ketsatha and his wife, Kanjana, have moved to Pine Street and brought the flavors of Siam to the old Le Provence building in the form of Napasorn Thai.
Not much has been changed inside, aside from a new color scheme for the two-level room, a new bar and a complete overhaul of the kitchen, run by Ketsatha's Uncle Damri. ("Thai cooking is very different from French," Uncle Damri tells me.) The menu isn't 100 percent Thai, with smatterings of Chinese (a dark-brothed and savory wonton soup with plump dumplings for $3.50), Japanese gyoza and a good but not stellar sushi menu.
Appetizers are both authentic and jazzed-up. The crispy spring rolls ($3.95) are stuffed with ground chicken and a coleslaw-like shredding of vegetables, both crisp and mellow. The "cheese roll crisp," on the other hand ($3.95), finds cream cheese and tiny bits of shrimp inside the wrap, and I'm still not sure if I liked it or not, but it's different. Most traditional is "sate gai" ($5.95), rich, peanut-sauced chicken slices on a skewer.
My favorite carryover from the Sawadee days is the basil duck dish ($15.95), a savory combination of dark duck meat and spinach-like basil leaves that now features mushrooms and peppers added to the lime-and-basil flavored sauce. Also a treat is "garlic and pepper meat" ($9.95), your choice of beef or chicken ($2 more for seafood) with a tang of spicy garlic, spicier black pepper and even spicier sauce that sneaks up on you until the sweat is pouring. I wasn't as impressed with the "madsa mahn" curry ($10.95), a dish from Islamic south Thailand that is usually loaded with potatoes which here seemed to have cooked down to a thick paste. Still, the combination of roasted peanuts and tender chicken was enjoyable.
Napasorn is both a welcome addition to the downtown food scene and a chance to eat Uncle Damri's great cooking a lot closer to home.