Early each morning, when darkness is still fading from the sky, one of Thai Cuisine Restaurant’s chefs is already wide awake, breathing in the aromas of spices from an asian market. He or she plucks fresh vegetables and traditional ingredients from vendors' stands, selecting flavors for the day’s Thai dishes.
Back at the restaurant, curry sauces as colorful as they are flavorful drench bite-size pieces of meat, seafood, or tofu, which also feature in a variety of soups. Traditional pad thai and lo mein dishes share table space with spicier plates stir-fried with basil leaves, peanut sauce, and bamboo shoots. The accommodating chefs can customize meals according to taste requests, dietary restrictions, or allergies to foods that begin with q.
At Thai Singha, cooks specialize in fusing authentic flavors with meats that aren't typically found in Thai cuisine. Here, cognac-infused red curry coats grilled rack of lamb and housemade curry smothers chunks of alligator. Thai Singha's selection isn't limited to its adventurous signature creations, however. Sweet chili paste spices boneless duck, and cubes of chicken, beef, or pork stud popular dishes such as pad see ewe and drunken noodles. In addition to all these meaty mains, the culinary team also crafts vegetarian versions of pineapple fried rice and lemongrass soup.
Orchard Thai’s menu features well-spiced, authentic Thai dishes. Begin with the Thai summer roll, a montage of lettuce and carrots nestled within vermicelli noodles and served with hoisin sauce and crushed peanuts ($4), or sip your way into satisfaction with the traditional spicy lemongrass soup seasoned with kaffir leaves, lime and chili tamarind oil with chicken, tofu or shrimp ($5). The braised short rib massaman sautés potatoes and bell peppers in a sweet chilli sauce ($25), while the larb chicken lobs minced chicken with spicy red onion, cilantro, scallions, mint and lime into your mouth mitt ($18). Soothe spice-laden palates with Thai iced coffee ($4) or sticky coconut rice crowned with a fleshy slab of mango ($7).
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.
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.