Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thai Basil

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite Thai dishes is pad kee mao talay, a spicy noodle dish with lots of Thai basil. My attempt at making Drunken Noodles and hoping they would be reasonably similar turned out tasty, but not quite right. So when we went to Han Ah Reum the other day, I looked extra hard for a jar of Maesri Chilli Paste with Sweet Basil Leaves. And there it was, near the seafood department (no wonder I couldn't find it before). I had bought this stuff some years ago and loved it so much, I put it in just about everything - soup, pasta sauce, tuna salad - anything in which I wanted an extra jolt of bold flavor.

Also at Han Ah Reum, we picked up a slab of fresh rice noodles, two bunches of Chinese broccoli, cilantro, and scallions, among many other things. Since our Thai basil plant was a bit out of control, I thought I'd try another basil and noodle concoction, this time using the Maesri paste.

We had extra firm tofu in the fridge, so I rinsed and drained it and put it between several thicknesses of paper towels to drain all afternoon. I then cut it into small cubes and browned them in a hot pan with a bit of canola oil until crispy on all sides. I chopped one bunch of Chinese broccoli into small bits and gave it a quick steaming until it was no longer raw. After cutting them into ribbons, I put the noodles into a pan with a tablespoon of water to soften, then added the broccoli and tofu, plus the white parts of 5 scallions. Over this I poured a mixture of 1 tablespoon of chili basil paste, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar. After stirring well, I put in two good handfuls of fresh Thai basil and let the mixture heat through until the basil was wilted and the broccoli was tender. Garnished with chopped cilantro, the green part of the scallions I cut up earlier, and some roasted peanuts, this was a terrific dinner that had very much the flavor of pad kee mao talay.

Now I'll have to remember what other interesting things I did with the Thai basil paste....

Thursday, June 28, 2007

N'awlins Style

With a little over three hours between the time I got off work and seeing Kathy Griffin at the Lyric last night, hubby and I chose to have dinner in Fells Point. We hadn't been to Louisiana in a while, not since a somewhat unexciting New Years Eve meal a few years back, so we gave it a go. And what's more suited to 102º 60% humidity weather than New Orleans style food?

I've never been particularly fond of their entrées, so I did my usual 3-appetizer meal: crab bisque, beet salad, shrimp and grits. Neal went for a roast chicken dish with crushed potatoes and crawfish sauce to follow his bisque.

The bisque, as always, was flawless: extremely crabby flavored cream with no flour to gum it up, and several nice lumps of real blue crab meat on top. There must be 1000 calories per serving, but it's so good, I want to lick the bowl. The beet salad was prepared a bit differently than I remember: diced beets, formed into a little tower by a ring mold, and topped with a generous schmear of goat cheese. It was garnished by a hat of baby arugula and drizzled with truffle vinaigrette. The flavors were all there, but I think the old version, with sliced beets, was more tender and easier to eat than all the little cubes that kept falling off the fork.

The shrimp and grits were also pretty close to perfect: three large shrimp, perfectly cooked and coated with a mild blackening seasoning, were arranged around a timbale of coarse grits studded with nuggets of corn. Surrounding this was a moat of cream imbued with the flavor of fresh corn. I like shrimp and grits a lot, and this refined preparation is my favorite of all the versions I've tried.

DH's chicken dish, which sounded pretty good, was slightly disappointing. The chicken breast was an airline cut (boneless, but with the first joint of the wing attached, to add the flavor of bone but not the awkwardness of rib), roasted until crisp. The skin was indeed crispy, yet it was rubbery and somewhat thick, and the meat was tough, but somehow not dried out. It was impossible to cut with a regular dinner knife, so we requested a steak knife. Saving the meal was the crushed potatoes that were like fancy hash browns, and the generous amount of crawfish tails in the very spicy sauce accompaniment. Our waiter, upon hearing that the chicken was giving N difficulties, said we would have dessert on the house.

For dessert, N had the apple beignets, triangular dough pockets filled with apples, a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. I chose the chocolate mousse. The beignets reminded us of carnival-style fried dough, fattening and yummy. The mousse was extremely rich and topped with whipped cream and a lovely tart raspberry sauce. I couldn't finish it. I was actually full before I got to the shrimp.

Louisiana does some things so wonderfully that it's such a let-down when things aren't perfect. I've only ordered an entree a few times, and every time I wished I hadn't. So now I don't. The food is so rich that a few appetizers makes for plenty of food. And our waiter said that some customers order a double portion of the shrimp and grits as an entree, and they add a veggie side dish. I might just try that next time.

Although the food is never 100% at Louisiana, it usually comes in at a solid 85%, and the service is never less than wonderful. Go, and make sure you have the bisque.

1708 Aliceanna St
Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 327-2610

Louisiana on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Baltimore Summer Restaurant Week, 2007

I was pleased to get an e-mail from today, announcing the upcoming Summer Restaurant Week here in Baltimore. The winter version was announced too late and hosted elsewhere, to somewhat sloppy disadvantage. Perhaps that was because some participants were not Open Table members.

This year's info:
"Enjoy special three-course, prix-fixe dinners at some of the city's best restaurants. Specified restaurants also feature three-course lunches.

"Duration: July 30 – August 5, 2007
Pricing: $30.07 dinners and $20.07 lunches at select restaurants; prices are per person and do not include beverage, tax or gratuity"

Participating Restaurants
Dinner only
Excludes Saturday and Sunday

Babalu Grill
Dinner only

Black Olive
Lunch and dinner

Blue Sea Grill
Dinner only

Brass Elephant
Dinner only

Dinner only

Della Notte
Lunch and dinner

Germano's Trattoria
Lunch and dinner

Dinner only

Grille 700 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront
Lunch and dinner

La Tasca
Lunch and dinner

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood
Lunch and dinner

Oceanaire Seafood Room
Dinner only

Dinner only

Pazza Luna
Lunch and dinner

Petit Louis Bistro
Lunch and dinner

Phillips - Harborplace
Lunch and dinner

Red Maple
Lunch and dinner

Dinner only

Rusty Scupper
Lunch and dinner
Excludes Saturday and Sunday

Ruth's Chris Steak House - Baltimore
Dinner only

Ruth's Chris Steak House - Pier 5
Dinner only

Shula's Steak House
Dinner only

Sotto Sopra
Dinner only

Taste Restaurant
Dinner only

The Prime Rib
Dinner only
Excludes Saturday and Sunday

Timothy Dean Bistro
Dinner only

Dinner only

Xanadu Restaurant
Lunch and dinner

So many high-end joints! I'm looking forward to the menu postings, and will pass that info on here, once I have it. I'd like to try VIN, Timothy Dean, Oceanaire, or one of the Big Steaks Management joints (Babalu Grill, Blue Sea Grill, Ruth's Chris). How about you?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Service? What's That?

Last night I went out to dinner with my friend Stacey and her friend Alex. Friday night at 7pm is a bad time for dining out in Baltimore if one doesn't have a reservation, but we gave it a shot. Alex wanted seafood, mentioning crab cakes in particular, so I did a quick Google search to see where they might be found in the northern Baltimore County area. I knew Ocean Pride would be packed, and they were. We definitely didn't want to wait 45 minutes, so headed further up York Road. I had never been to Michael's Café, but read that they had crabcakes, so we gave it a go. Unfortunately for us, they could accomodate us right away. At least, we got to sit down. Actual accomodation was a long time in coming.

Right away, our waitress came up to recite a list of specials in her bizarrely nasal Minnie Mouse with strep throat voice. She took Alex's drink order for an iced tea and left. A minute or so later, she brought the tea, and a small plate of butter, and then disappeared for a bit. Which was fine. Since one of us is constantly talking, I needed the extra time to grab a minute here and there to actually concentrate on the menu. Bread eventually came, but Minnie Mouse disappeared fast without taking our order. After what seemed like an eternity, she returned and we requested the seared Ahi tuna, calamari, and crab/shrimp dip appetizers. Alex and I ordered crab cakes for our entrees, and Stacey decided on scallops. And because some of us really needed a drink, I selected a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel, very nicely priced at $25.

Alex's side salad came first, a decent-enough looking mix of greens and other salad veggies, with dressing on the side. Unfortunately, it looked as if the dressing cup had come off of someone else's plate - it was barely half-full. Alex wanted extra dressing, so needed the waitress. When she arrived with our wine (presenting it to Stacey, even though I was the one who ordered it), her response to the request for extra dressing was, "no." Considering we had been sitting in the restaurant for about 45 minutes already and had only gotten one salad, some rolls, and now wine, I didn't think Minnie had any right to attempt humor. She did bring the dressing with the appetizers, which we fell upon with vigor.

The ahi tuna was quite nice, albeit outrageously priced at $12. (One can get a more generous portion of even o-toro for less at a reputable sushi restaurant.) Seven long thin slices of tuna, raw in the middle and crusted with peppercorns and sesame seeds, lay atop mesclun greens dressed in a nice soy vinaigrette, with small dollops of wasabi sauce and a Thousand Island-looking aioli at the compass points. The tuna was delicious, as were the greens, and a larger portion of both would have made a nice dinner in itself. The menu claims that the calamari is "hand breaded," but I believe those hands worked for a frozen seafood plant somewhere far away. The adequate portion of squid, both rings and tentacles, were unexceptional, the bland breading tasting of nothing, and the accompanying marinara was merely something red and wet in which to dip the seafood. As for the crab and shrimp dip, I was hard-pressed to find any actual seafood in the pink-colored cream cheese goo, but it was tasty enough slathered on the crisp slices of garlic bread that came with it.

Surprisingly, the entrees came not long after the dinner plates were cleared. At least the kitchen's timing was good, if not the waitress'. Each of us got two vegetables with our protein, but somehow my green beans ended up on Alex's plate. Minnie Mouse went to fetch some for me and actually did arrive before I was finished eating. My single crab cake was full of lump crab, with very little binder, but it was overall fairly bland and needed more seasoning of some sort. The side of tartar sauce tasted weird, and I didn't bother with the cocktail sauce, since I don't think it goes with crabcakes. The potato, baked in foil, was predictably arid, but the beans, once they arrived, were cooked perfectly crisp and bright green; slicked with a touch of fat of some sort, all they needed was a bit of salt to bring out their flavor. Stacey's scallops came in a ghost-white creamy wine sauce, but the generous portion was well-cooked and flavorful. Her side of beets came from a can. Alex did not comment on the quality of her entree, but I did notice her request for mayonnaise (presumably for her fries) was never fufilled.

Minnie Mouse's appearances at our table were sporadic, and she never seemed to be around when we needed her. For instance, when our appetizers arrived, she still had not brought Stacy a place setting or napkin. After her fork ended up with the dirty appetizer dishes, she was not given a replacement with which to eat her entree until she managed to flag someone down. When pouring my wine, Minnie slopped it all over the base of my glass, and I was afraid to lift it lest I dribble on my shirt. She offered to bring a napkin to clean it, but that took 10 minutes. By the end of the meal, we were completely exasperated and opted to find dessert elsewhere. It was close to 9:30 p.m. when we left the restaurant, and I noticed the table next to ours was turned over twice while we were there. Oddly enough, they had the same waitress.

Although parts of the meal were enjoyable, I can't say I plan to return to Michael's Café. It's a standard, run-of-the-mill Maryland seafood restaurant, somewhat dingy, with mostly unexceptional food and poor service. We were seated within sniffing distance of the restrooms (which are badly located behind a short partition and which open directly into the dining room) and practically on top of a service station with various piles of whatnot on it but not useful things like napkins and silverware. Some attention to detail was evident in the meal: the green beans; the nice crisp dinner rolls; the perfectly cooked tuna. But other signs suggested the kitchen was on auto-pilot: the half-full salad dressing; the canned beets; the dull calamari. I can't blame the fact that it was prime time on a Friday night - the place was full but not busy, there was no line to get in, and the pace overall seemed to be quite leisurely. Nobody looked harried, distraught, or overworked.

Michael's is a place that has its regulars, and indeed I knew one gentleman who confessed to eating there every weekend, at the bar. That's well and good for them, if they like what they get. They can have it.

Michael's Cafe Raw Bar & Grill
2119 York Rd
Timonium, MD 21093
(410) 252-2022

Michael's Cafe Raw Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Another Father's Day Feast

Last year's grillin' and chillin' chez Dad was so successful, we did it again this year. It sure beats deciding on a place to eat. In my family, that goes a little like this:

"So where do you want to go for Father's Day, Dad?"
"Oh, I don't know. Let me think about it for a few days and get back to you."

A few days later:

"Dad, have you decided where you want to go?"
"Oh, I haven't had time to think about it. What do you think?"

It always comes back to me. I always get to make the food decisions. It would be fine if I picked a restaurant and then everyone agreed, but I have to keep in mind that my brother is always on the Atkins diet, and while Dad enjoys ethnic cuisine, it's not always his first choice. My brother prefers to eat dinner later, whereas Neal and I are pretty conditioned to eating early. If I suggest dinner before 7 there are grumbles, and if I suggest we eat later, there are other grumbles. And if I'm going to put my hard-earned money down on food, especially for an occasion, I refuse to eat the fodder of the masses at a chain restaurant like Outhouse Steakback or Dead Lobster, so that cuts out more than half the restaurants in Maryland.

Eating at home is easier.

I made slightly less food this time - just one package of baby backs (three racks). Instead of the marinated flank steak, we went to Ceriello's and bought a nice big dry-aged sirloin steak that I schmeared with three cloves of smashed garlic and a little soy. Their Italian sausage looked good, so we tried the version with garlic and sundried tomatoes. Neal and I collaborated on an Asian pesto noodle salad, using great handfuls of basil and two little jalapenos from our garden.

Our token vegetable was corn on the cob. It's hard to find anything but white corn in Maryland. Someone has convinced the general public that corn should taste of sugar and nothing else. Personally, I prefer it to taste of corn, so I like yellow corn better. We found some corn with mixed yellow and white kernels, but it was still fairly insipid. Everything else was amazing though. The steak, cooked perfectly medium and allowed to rest for a nice long time, was flavorful, slightly garlicky, and like buttah. I used my usual Alton Brown baby backs technique, so they were predictably fabulous, and the new Smith and Wollensky bbq sauce we tried gave them a nice tangy edge. (It's a bit like a marriage of regular sweet bbq sauce and Heinz 57.) The pesto salad, made with spinach soba and garnished with chopped green onions, was a festival of green color and allium flavors.

Dessert was homemade coconut cream pie. I got the recipe from an episode of America's Test Kitchen. It was supposed to be more coconutty, because there was coconut milk in the custard. Neal doesn't like grated coconut, comparing it to plastic shavings, so I thought this would be a good recipe to try. Those of us who like plastic shavings could always pile it on our individual slices as garnish.

Despite the 5 egg yolks, the pastry cream seemed a bit thin to me. The pie wasn't runny, but the filling was loose enough to make slice removal difficult (despite nearly 24 hours of refrigeration). The coconut flavor was there, but it was not impressive. The original recipe calls for shredded coconut in the filling as well, so that may help. In addition, the crust was crumbly, and a tad too sweet.

We served it with Reddi Whip, since I was too lazy to make whipped cream from scratch and felt it would collapse before we got a chance to eat it, and a nice handful of shredded coconut (except for Neal). Because Dad loves pina coladas, I put slices of fresh pineapple on the plates as well. A shame I didn't get a pic....

Coconut Cream Pie, adapted from America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated

6 ounces animal crackers
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

14 ounces coconut milk (1 can)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/8 teaspoon table salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. In food processor, pulse animal crackers, coconut, and sugar to fine crumbs, eighteen to twenty 1-second pulses; then process until powdery, about 5 seconds. Transfer crumbs to medium bowl and add butter; stir to combine until crumbs are evenly moistened. Empty crumbs into 9-inch glass pie plate; using bottom of ramekin or 1/2 cup dry measuring cup, press crumbs evenly into bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake until fragrant and medium brown, about 15 minutes, rotating pie shell halfway through baking time. Set on wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

2. For the filling: Bring coconut milk, whole milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Following illustrations 1 through 6, whisk yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisking constantly, gradually ladle about 1 cup hot milk mixture over yolk mixture; whisk well to combine. Whisking constantly, gradually add remaining milk mixture to yolk mixture in 3 or 4 additions; whisk well to combine. Return mixture to saucepan and cook until thickened and mixture reaches boil, whisking constantly, about 1 minute; filling must boil in order to fully thicken. (To determine whether filling has reached boil, stop whisking; large bubbles should quickly burst on surface.) Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is fully incorporated. Pour hot filling into cooled pie shell and smooth surface with rubber spatula; press plastic wrap directly against surface of filling and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Blogging Top Chef

The third season of Bravo's Top Chef started off with a supersize episode (translation: more commercials) introducing fifteen new cheftestants and ultimately eliminating one. It almost seems that this season's gang may have more culinary chops than their counterparts from the first two seasons. But first impressions can be wrong.

Hung is a friend of Marcel from Season 2. That makes him the talented asshole. Not that he's the only asshole in the cast: Joey Paulino is a fat-ass, loud-mouth Noo Yawk Eye-Talian, who probably uses "f*ckin'" as an adjective in most sentences; one of those people who is the reason stereotypes exist. In the previews for next week's ep, he's doing some macho posturing with Howie (who got Bourdain's respect by quoting from one of his own books). Save the Sopranos act for the famiglia, Joey, and try to concentrate on cooking.

I didn't get a feel for any of the female contestants, although I think Sandee looks like a chicken. Are fauxhawks in style or something? They look like something a redneck 8-year-old would wear.

Once again we get Tom Colicchio's "I am not a mentor" speech. Yeah, we know. You're not Tim Gunn. But you're only half as annoying as Rene Fris. And yay for guest judge Tony Bourdain! How lucky is winner Tre that Tony wants to take him out and get him drunk in the future? And how unlucky is loser Clay? Poor dude - I knew he was doomed from the get-go. But someone had to pack their knives and go.

Both challenges this week were interesting, but I thought two hours was pitifully short for working with not one exotic protein but two. I hope the rest of the season will continue to strive to be interesting rather than merely concentrating on the histrionics of the contestants.

My big question is: where's this season's laconic hunk? No Harold, and no Sam. Poop.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Yin Yankee Cafe

Leaving the comfort of our air-conditioned home on the hottest day of the year so far (our car thermometer read 101 on the way home) to go to Annapolis probably wasn't the smartest idea in the world, but we had an appointment. While we were in the area, we decided to stop for lunch at Yin Yankee Cafe, on Main Street. The Baltimore Sun had given it a good rating, and Baltimore Magazine chose it as one of their favorites for 2006. We've been in an Asian mood lately (at least I have) so we decided to give it a try.

Yin Yankee is a relatively tiny place, funky and eclectic, with textured metallic gold walls and colorful, flat, blob-shaped pieces of glass suspended from the ceiling that gave the feeling of being in a giant lava lamp. A sushi bar/open kitchen dominated the room, and patrons could choose to sit and eat at a counter, diner-style (or, sushi bar-style), or at a table.

The problem with such small restaurants is that they often have one unisex bathroom. Unisex bathrooms mean one thing - pee on the floor. (Why do men have such horrible aim? Do they even aim?) I know a restaurant review is probably not the place to discuss bodily functions, but hygiene is kind of important. In addition to the sticky wet floor, Yin Yankee's bathroom featured an elaborate mural of a dragon, and a quirky cabinet that contained, among other things, an autographed photo of Ron Jeremy.

To the food. For his appetizer, my handsome dining companion went for the shrimp and veggie beignets with firey habanero sauce. I chose the chili pod fried calamari. Both servings were easily share-able by 2 or more. The large, crisp, puffy beignets were studded with big chunks of shrimp and small bits of vegetables (although I couldn't tell you what they were, as I was too absorbed in my app) and the dipping sauce was far from firey. It was garlicky, however, and rather like a twist on cocktail sauce. It had a sweet, ketchup-y quality, a bit of heat, and lots of savor. My calamari were served with a soy dipping sauce and a tasty pile of salad made from cucumbers cut into long thin noodles. The squid could have been crispier, but they were extremely tender - not even the barest hint of rubberiness - and the generous portion also contained quite a few of my favorite part, the tentacles.

For his entree, my companion (ok, it was my husband) chose the House of Yin Steak Sandwich - thinly sliced, grilled top sirloin with caramelized onions, marinated cucumbers, and creamy wasabi dressing. The sandwich was served on a warm baguette, dressing on the side, with a pile of waffle cut fries and a bit of peanutty Asian vegetable slaw. Far more firey than the habanero sauce, the wasabi dressing had a serious bite and made a perfect dip for the excellent, nicely salty fries, as well as the flavorful sandwich. I chose the Laos salad - baby spinach, oranges, basil, toasted pine nuts, golden orange-soy vinaigrette - with duck. The salad was small, but well dressed, with a generous portion of the pine nuts, and a healthy sprinkling of crushed fried won ton noodles on it too. And the duck was tremendous. There was about half a duck breast, sliced not-too-thinly, cooked perfectly medium, atop the salad. It was melt-in-the-mouth tender, and had a slight smoky flavor that hubby said was almost "like bacon." There was a crisp strip of skin on each slice, and absolutely no fat. I have no idea how they rendered the fat so well, but this was among the best duck dishes I have ever eaten.

I'd go back to Yin Yankee just for the duck. And I wouldn't mind trying some of the funky sushi rolls while I'm at it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Frittering Away the Time

After making drunken noodles over the weekend, I had about 6 ounces of crabmeat left over. I had originally thought a crab salad would be a good idea, then realized it would not be enough for two people. Remembering a shrimp cocktail I once had in London that was an odd combination of shrimp, corn kernels, and a close relative of Thousand Island dressing, I thought that adding some corn to the crab salad might work to bulk it up. But then something in the recesses of my mind whispered "fritters" to me. More accurately, it said, "placki." Growing up in a Polish household, I ate a helluva lot of placki (pronounced "plotsky") in my day, mostly potato, but sometimes corn. Once in a while Grandma felt adventurous and made asparagus placki, using that nasty metallic-tasting mush from a can. (That was the only asparagus I was familiar with, so at the time it wasn't so weird. And the placki were actually pretty good.) Why wouldn't corn and crab placki work?

I did a brief search of the Web and found that the two ingredients seemed to be made for each other, as there were dozens of fritter recipes. I borrowed heavily from a couple of them to create these:

Corn, Crab, and Coriander Fritters
1 cup corn kernels, thawed and well-drained if frozen
6 oz crab meat
3 scallions, white and green parts chopped fine
3 tblsp cilantro, chopped fine
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
Salt & pepper to taste
oil or nonstick cooking spray

Whisk together eggs, flour, baking powder, and milk until smooth. Add remaining ingredients except crab and oil and mix well. Fold in crabmeat. Set batter aside for about half an hour to rest.

I used a pancake griddle sprayed with Pam, but you can use a skillet with oil, if you prefer. Dollop the batter on and spread slightly with back of spoon to form approximately 4" flat rounds. Cook until browned on bottom, then flip to brown other side, pressing down with spatula to flatten more, if necessary. As they become cooked, transfer fritters to a plate and keep warm by covering with aluminum foil.

Serve hot with Sriracha, sweet soy, or plain. Garnish with additional chopped cilantro and scallions, if desired.

Makes 12 fritters.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Thai Noodles

I love Thai food. If I had to pick a favorite cuisine, although my tastes vary from hour to hour, my choice today would be Thai. The powerful flavors created by the combination of herbs and seasonings so very unlike those of Western cuisines amaze and delight my taste buds and leave me wanting more. I still lament the loss of my favorite Thai restaurant, Bangkok Place, when I recall the aromatic wonder that was their red curry. It was the standard to which I hold all other red curries, and none, with their usual over-sweetened gloppiness, has come close to that sublime combination of coconut milk, chiles, and kaffir lime.

One of my other favorite Thai dishes is pad kee mao ta lay - rice noodles with seafood in a sauce redolent of Thai basil and chiles. Only one local restaurant serves it, that I know of -- Banthai -- and I compulsively order it every time I dine there. The noodles are delectably wide, and the sauce (if one can call it that, it's a rather dry preparation) is darkly flavored with the bitter licorice savor of Thai basil, reeking of garlic, and pungently hot. The seafood, usually scallops, shrimp, and decoratively latticed squid, is merely a distraction from the wonder of bland chewy noodles transformed by aromatic sauce.

Since we had planted Thai basil in our container garden this Spring, and it was growing rapidly, I decided to attempt making this dish at home. I wasn't able to find a recipe for kee mao ta lay, but did find several for kee mao, or drunken noodles. "Drunken" doesn't refer to the dish itself, but to the consumer. The dish is supposed to be so hot and spicy with chiles that the eater must douse the flames with lots of alcohol, thus becoming inebriated. Well, we're a little on the wimpy side in the Minx household, plus we had no fresh chiles (our jalapeno plant has many flowers on it, however!), so I cheated.

This recipe involved lots of prep work - chopping of various things, noodle cooking, but once all that was accomplished, putting the dish together was a snap.

Drunken Noodles with Seafood a la Minx
8 ounces wide rice ribbon noodles
1/4 lb shelled shrimp
1/4 lb small scallops
1/2 lb crabmeat, picked over
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Approximately 30 Thai basil leaves (two good handsful)

2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar
juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon Sriracha chile sauce
1/2 teaspoon Korean ground red pepper

Cook noodles according to package directions. (Boil 4 - 6 minutes, drain and rinse in cold water. I soaked them in cold water until I was ready to use them to keep them from sticking.)

Add a tablespoon of oil to a large hot skillet and cook shrimp until just beginning to turn opaque. Add scallops and garlic and stir fry 2 minutes. Add sauce ingredients (combining them in advance helps) and toss to coat. Drain noodles and add to skillet, mixing well. Add cilantro, basil, and chopped scallions and toss with noodle mixture. Allow basil to wilt. Gently stir in crabmeat.

Serve piping hot, garnishing with more basil, cilantro, and scallions, if you wish. Two - four servings, depending on how hungry/piggy you are.

As I was eating this last night, I realized if I had added some scrambled egg, beansprouts, and chopped peanuts, and subtracted the heat, I'd have Pad Thai. Delicious either way.