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Perpetual Place

Objective journalism be damned; The Thai Place is a great restaurant. Not perhaps in the same way that Ducasse in New York or Le Cinq in Paris is great, but if consistently good food and service is your earmark of greatness, then let's throw the dictionary away and go eat.

It's difficult to find any place, restaurant or otherwise, that can live up to the memories of your last visit, and that's why it's always a pleasure to sit at one of the tables in the recently expanded shopping-center location, redecorated with dark walls and glittery Thai artwork. The food is always as good as you remember, and the addition of more space only means you'll have a better chance of being seated.

Before you even look at the menu, order the chicken coconut soup (tom kha gai, $2.95). Sit for a moment with the bowl before you, inhale the ginger and lemongrass aroma, admire the mushrooms and strips of chicken breaking the surface like islands in a calm, spicy sea. Be careful -- lemongrass isn't the most edible seasoning, but avoiding the green segments only allows you to slow down and enjoy the flavor.

And flavor is what Thai Place is all about. Whether it's nam sod ($5.95), a ground chicken and peanut salad spiced with ginger and lime or the lightly battered vegetable tempura with a sweet hot sauce ($4.95), the appetizer selections prepare your tongue for several combinations of main courses.

In a way, entrées at Thai Place remind me of gourmet night at Fawlty Towers, where Basil Fawlty served duck with orange, duck with cherry, or "duck surprise" (with orange and cherry). To your order of chicken, seafood, beef or pork is added a choice of sauces; variations on curries red, green or yellow, sweet chili, ginger or hot basil. All are good choices, and some -- like the green curry, with a mellow slow heat unlike Indian curry's sudden attack -- will make you sit back and smile. Entrees run between $8.95 and $10.95, with house specials like "Siamese shrimp" slightly higher. If the pad thai noodles ($7.95) had a little more lime, they'd be the best in town. Vegetarians can order fresh veggie combinations with any of those marvelous sauces.

A salad, resplendent with peanut dressing, will appear before you almost as you're sitting down. Boon, the owner, never forgets a face or what is usually ordered to stuff in it, and it's rarely long between offers of more sticky rice or drinks.

Thai Place is a restaurant you'll bring guests to, always with the fear that it'll become too popular if you tell too many people. Don't worry, it's a big plaza, they can always spread out again.

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