A collage of dark woods, gilded statues, and vibrant textiles greets the eye at Rouen Thai, perfumed by a spiced aroma that floats out from the kitchen. As patrons settle into high-backed booths or around sunken tables with traditional floor-cushion seating, they can prime their palates with sips of thai sweet iced tea with a touch of cream. The menu includes familiar noodle dishes such as pad see ew as well as frog legs, squid, and sea scallops in numerous sauces. Racks of lamb, grilled and topped with basil leaves, form a counterpoint to the vegetarian menu’s siam tofu with thai chili sauce. The chefs also serve a substantial list of macrobiotic dishes, many of which come with sautéed shrimp, a mélange of veggies, and rice that's naturally tan.
At Thai Sweet Basil, chefs shun frozen produce and MSG, instead championing fresh, all-natural ingredients for their menu of traditional Thai cuisine. They simmer five varieties of curries, serving them with fragrant mounds of jasmine rice, and fry up classic noodle dishes, such as pad thai and sweet-basil fried rice. They also plate delicacies such as soft-shell crab with green curry and snapper marinated in tamarind. All the recipes and cooking techniques that they use were developed over the centuries in the Thai royal palace. Servers weave between sunny walls and maroon booths bordering a dining room speckled with emerald fronds, exotic artwork, and linens as white and untarnished as a snowman's criminal record.
Thai cuisine doesn't favor any one portion of the tongue. By drawing on a full range of herbs and spices it strives to activate all five of the palate's taste senses in every meal. The result: colorful dishes such as tom yum goong, a spicy sour soup prepared with chili and lemongrass, and phad se-ew, a sweet and savory rice dish with a choice of meat glazed in soy sauce. Thai Thani, which is celebrating its 10th year in Tampa, embraces this wholeheartedly and adds its own creations to the Thai canon. The house specialty Thai Thani angel wings, for instance, stuff boneless chicken with pork, water chestnuts, clear noodles, mushrooms, and garlic.
The restaurant doesn't only embrace Thai culinary philosophy, either. It also transports its diners to a little slice of Thailand by filling its dining room with imported antiques and statues, hand-carved tables and tropical plants, and stamping the passport of everyone who enters.
Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant is all about unexpected pairings. Thai statues stand alongside saxophones and photos of jazz legends hanging from the walls. In the dining room, a small raised stage creates an intimate performance space in the midst of a casual dining environment, with free live jazz performances on Fridays after 6:30 p.m. And amid the quintessentially American music comes a parade of traditional Thai cuisine. Outdoor seating is available, and the restaurant is located is down the street from the University of South Florida.
Like an aromatic dance, servers nimbly carry plates piled with five kinds of curry, pad thai, and signature dishes such as Jazz Sextet: a bed of pineapple and sauteed veggies in special sweet and sour sauce. Nearby, bartenders pour wine, beer, and sake to complement the food, which the kitchen can prep at four levels of spiciness. But meals often end on a chilly note, and another memorable combination. Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant ice cream teams a fried banana with a generous mound of coconut ice cream, sourced from the frozen palm trees that grow in Antarctica.