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The Gossiping Gourmet: Laguna Thai has its ups and downs

October 17, 2012|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz | By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Pad Thai Noodles with shrimp, left, and Ga Rhee Gai, both photographed in 2006, are two of the most popular dishes served at Laguna Thai By the Sea.
Pad Thai Noodles with shrimp, left, and Ga Rhee Gai, both… (FILE PHOTO )

The tiny eatery Laguna Thai by the Sea has had a face lift this past year and added bamboo wainscoting and more mobile-type paper decorations swinging in the breeze, but the major new addition is a fancy wood, floor-to-ceiling wine cabinet that dominates the small room. "A" (as he is called), the chef-owner, is really into wine. He's also a jazz buff, and if you're lucky, you'll hear some really good standards mixed in with the Thai pop.

There's a cozy patio with several tables and the surrounding foliage helps separate it from South Coast Highway. It's especially pleasant to dine there on a warm summer night.

Inside, the soft-drink case is still the first thing to greet your eye. Next, you are welcomed by one of their sweet waitresses and seated at a table covered with a red cloth topped with butcher paper. The décor is simple, and the place is small, but there is a busy take-out business as well.

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We had not been at Thai by the Sea for quite a while, but the tom yum soup is as yummy as ever. This spicy lemongrass and shrimp broth is balanced with lime juice, fish sauce and a hint of sugar. Tossed in at the end are cabbage, celery, cherry tomatoes and a few shrimp for a fresh and crunchy finish.

We still remember the delicious geow za (usually spelled gyoza) from our last visit. These appetizer dumplings were much less tasty this time. The chicken mixture was more scant and barely seasoned. To compound the problem, the dipping sauce was not thick enough to stick to the dough wrappers and add any flavor. They are obviously using a different purveyor.

Fried tofu sticks had a nice crust, but neither the crust nor the interior had any seasoning, and the tofu wasn't plump and juicy. The mild sweet-and-sour dipping sauce topped with chopped peanuts was also too thin.

Much better was the yellow curry. You have a choice of proteins, and we selected chicken. The complex coconut-milk sauce contains a long list of spices: cumin, coriander, nutmeg, galangal-ginger and lime leaves to name a few. There is sweetness and heat, although ours was on the mild side even though we ordered it medium spicy. This type of curry also contains potatoes, and here they've added cherry tomatoes. It was a very well-balanced and flavorful dish.

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