By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 21, 2009
o informality is the norm. Being a student hangout, the prices are as agreeable as the food. A list of house specialties are only $12.95 for dinner, with lunch portions only-er, $8.95. There are also more choices in basic categories than at many other such restaurants, a convenience for regulars — seven fried rice variations, for example. Soup choices ($3.75) aren’t just the usual Tom Yum and Tom Kar Gai, but also crystal soup, chicken in broth with glass noodles, also known as bean thread noodles; and a house soup, with roast pork, Napa cabbage, and wontons in a clear broth.

But why settle for chopped liver if foie gras is on the menu? I love Tom Yum but usually find myself choosing Tom Kar, because I’m a fool for coconut milk. Theirs is wonderfully creamy, pink from a bit of chili; but I’m a glutton, so I could have used more mushrooms among the three medium shrimp. Johnnie’s Tom Yum was chock full of vegetables, but it’s two-chili hotness was a bit too much for her, so she slid it across to our guest, who very much enjoyed it. (The one- and two-chili designations start with spicy, not moderate, and continue with very spicy.)

We also shared a combination platter ($10.95). The three Siam rolls were small, crisp fried spring rolls full of shredded veggies. The four satay skewers consisted of both beef and chicken, marinated but even more appreciated with a thick peanut sauce. There was also vegetable tempura, abundant but a bit greasier, because of a thicker batter, than Japanese versions. The three dipping sauces were all a little sweet, especially the one with diced carrots and cukes, and even the one called chili sauce.

Tarra couldn’t be coaxed away from ordering pad Thai ($8.25-$9.25), which she’s a big fan of in general, and especially at Spice. She declares theirs to be “the best.” My sample of its rice noodles gave a little resistance, a prime interest of mine, and this version contains turnip as well as mung bean sprouts, ground peanuts, and choice of meat, shrimp, veggies, or tofu. Very good.

She also touted the two-chili hot basil fried rice ($8.25-$9.25). Some of the other versions sounded interesting, such as the pineapple one with shrimp, chicken, and crabmeat, and a Korean variation with kimchi (fermented bok choi). But I’m glad I followed Tarra’s recommendation, because there was a delicious smokiness to it as well as panfried basil leaves and other goodies.

Another dish that knocked me out was one of the four duck offerings, which range in sauces from choo chee curry to plum sauce. This one was tamarind ($15.95; at lunch, $8.95), accompanied by sautéed vegetables. The skin was very crispy, which is always a separate treat, and there was plenty of the meat, swimming in enough sauce to spoon over the side of rice, which had been shaped in a star mold. The complementary taste of ginger was a pleasant addition.

Johnnie chose their take on the first dish she ever had in a Thai restaurant, massaman curry ($10.95-$15.95, from tofu or veggies to duck or mixed seafood). (My first dish was so spicy hot that I couldn’t finish it, concerned that my chopsticks would burst into flame.) There were big chunks of sweet potato, which she very much appreciated, plus tofu and lots of carrots and onions in a sweet and spicy hot sauce. Delicious.

Now that there is plenty of competition among Thai restaurants, it’s harder for one to stand out. Spice certainly does, as its packed tables attest.
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