Open This Door
The front door of Samui Thai Cuisine is a fascinating contraption. This is a good sign for a restaurant, because if the front door is compelling enough to stop you and invite you to fiddle with it, think of what the food must be like. The huge 500-pound red oak door is threaded with a twine pulley with a counterweight and a bell tied to the end. The bell is supposed to be a feng shui touch: The tinkle generates good luck or something. But that isn't the reason for the pulley. According to one of the managers, they couldn't get the 500-pound door to stay shut. So they strung it up with a weight and added a bell so they knew when customers arrived. The feng shui reasoning sounds better though.
Once past that massive front door and the wooden inner door, you come upon an almost surreal inner chamber with red, purple, and gold leaf, the colors of the interiors of many temples in Thailand. To the left of the entryway is a glassed-in wall with bamboo stalks reaching from floor to ceiling. Nooks and alcoves in some of the walls hold Thai artifacts collected by owner Salinda Setvanich, sister of restaurateur Vinnie Varasin, owner of the fine Chow Thai, Mango Thai, and Chow Thai Pacific Rim.
But Samui, parked way up north in Allen, perhaps outruns these restaurants. The food is imaginative, beautiful, and near flawless. If there are any flaws here, it is with the New Wave shrimp, shrimp covered with panko breadcrumbs, fried, and then splashed with rice vinegar. The covering was crisp and a little greasy, but just a little. The shrimp themselves sweated sweet succulence.
Soups worked well too. Samui tom yum soup, a spicy lemongrass soup, was a ruddy broth packed with mushrooms and chunks of chicken that somehow remained moist in the cleanly racy broth.
There's a tritely titled section on the menu called Oodles O Soup Noodles, under which is a variety of soups served in bowls the size of satellite dishes. These things are meals in themselves, and have the same impact on your plumbing as a six of Pabst. Vegetarian clear noodle soup is strips of fried tofu, baby bok choy, carrot, snow peas, and disintegrating baby corn cobs tangled with a floating mesh of cellophane noodles. The vegetables were crisp and flavorful and the broth was lightly elegant and savory.
A blistering standout is the Samui shumai, steamed shrimp and scallop pot stickers in ginger-soy vinaigrette. These gummy pouches are delivered on a plate with greens and crispy noodles, and the dumplings are crowned with a basil leaf, tomato, and a scallop sprinkled with a little roe, most likely tobiko. The pot stickers themselves were tender and rich with a superbly balanced and delicate briny flavor.
Samui also has curry dishes prepared with red and green curry. The red curry rendition, made with curry paste commingled with coconut milk, came off like silk--racy silk. The curry was strewn with Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, shrimp, and scallops. The briny, tender shellfish amplified the sweetness of the coconut milk and mingled cleanly with the other flavors.
Steamed Chilean sea bass was immaculate. Served in a near clear broth with tomato, celery, spicy dill, and other herbs, the fish was exquisitely lush and tender with a rich, buttery flavor.
Samui, named after a large island off the coast of Thailand, is perhaps the strongest entry into the metroplex Thai dining segment over the last couple of years. Don't play with the door on the way out though. We did, and we bopped somebody on the head.
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