Outside of Japanese and Mexican, Thai food is the one type of food I would have the toughest time living without.
The reasons for this are many, including it's variety, unique and exotic nature, it's vibrant flavors, and the use of
fresh ingredients. Thai food also traditionally uses a good deal of seafood, which is always a way to get my
attention. Historically Thai food was heavily influenced by the waterborne/seafaring nature of the traditional Thai
lifestyle, and because of the Buddist influence, large chuncks of meat were usually eschewed. Typically meat is
chopped up or shredded and mixed with herbs and/or spices. The Thai people have been extremely adept at
combining influences from both East and West to form a uniquely Siamese cuisine. Some of the most vital
influences on contemporary Thai cuisine include those of the Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Portegese, and French.
Especially important is the introduction of frying, stir frying, and deep frying by the Chinese, and the introduction
of chilies by the Portugese who developed a fondness for them after Portugese missionaries encountered them
while serving in South America.

The eating of Thai food also has a unique nature which is designed to appeal to all senses and ultimately seeks to
balance spice, flavor, color, and texture. A Thai meal should include a soup (spicy or not), a curry dish(usually
spicy), fish and/or vegetables with a dip (typically not spicy), rice, and finishing with a sweet desert or freash fruit
such as mango, papaya, durian, grapes, or melon. Thai food is also eaten with a fork and spoon, and is prepared in
a way that obviates the need for a knife. In addition, Thai food is best eaten in a group were a number of various
dishes can be shared.

My personal favorite Thai dishes include Tom Yum or Tom Ka Gai soup, green curry with fish, Pad Thai noodles,
spring rolls, and sticky rice (used tradionally as part of a dessert, not with the main meal). As for drinks that
compliment Thai meals, you can't go wrong with a great Thai beer such as Singha, but there are many great
tradional drinks such as Thai tea (Cha Yen), Thai hibiscus drink (Nam Ga Jiup), soybean milk (Tee's favorite), or
fresh Guava juice.

Here in Salt Lake City we haven't had more than a couple of Thai restaurants until quite recently. While there are
now several spots to choose from, only a couple are really worth patronizing. Conversely, the number of good Thai
establishments Tee and I were able to enjoy while living in both Sydney and Honolulu has spoiled us. Below I've
noted some particularly good Thai restaurants in all three cities. If you know of others, tell me about them!
Monsoon Thai is serious about food, wine
By Mary Brown Malouf
Special to The Tribune

A sampler of appetizers at Monsoon Thai Bistro: Coconut sesame prawns, chicken wrapped in pandang leaf and
sliced egg spring roll. (Photo courtesy of Monsoon Thai Bistro)         
"Everybody, say 'NWAHR,' " our host, professional wine connoisseur Joe Mattingly said, raising his glass.

"NWAHR," we chorused, like kids repeating after Big Bird.

Following Mattingly's instructions, we swirled and sniffed, tilted our glasses to look at the color of the wine against
the white tablecloth, watched the legs running down inside the bowl and, finally, sipped and swished.

No spitting, here, though. We had paid $45 a person to drink wine, not just to look at it. Specifically, the upstairs
room at Monsoon Thai Bistro was filled with diners who had gathered to taste Burgundies 9 "pinot NWAHR" in
American wine-speak 9 with Thai food.

We started with big grilled shrimp over delicately sour-sweet strands of cabbage and carrot and shockingly strong,
crisped garlic paired with a 2003 Domaine Rochebin in thin-walled, big-bowled glasses. Then a plate of pad Thai,
with a 2004 Joseph Drouhin Laforet, followed by seared tuna rounds, the translucent ruby meat smooth as the
2002 Louis Latour Volnay Premier Cru "en Chevret." Finally, roasted duck and baby bok choy was matched with a
2003 Vincent Girardin Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes. The food was terrific; the wines were good.

The pairings? So-so.

I still prefer a spicy white, like Riesling, or something bubbly, like sparkling wine
A sampler of appetizers at Monsoon Thai Bistro: fresh spring rolls. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)         
or beer, with Thai food. (The seared tuna was an exception.) To me, the subtle notes of pinot noir get lost in the riot
of Thai flavors. The grape's dark depths are flattened and made insipid by the intensely scented complexity of most
Thai dishes and any tannin conflicts with ginger and galangal. But I love the adventure of tasting and thinking,
exploring the play of one flavor against another. I appreciate Monsoon Thai Bistro hosting such taste fetes and I
would love to go back Sunday to see how Mattingly matches cabernet sauvignon with larb nuer beef salad, and
which wines have been chosen for the four-course Mother's Day brunch.

The restaurant takes wine seriously: Its list won an award of excellence from Wine Spectator in 2004. The wine list
has almost 400 entries, with lots of interesting varietals and half bottles as well as some outrageously ambitious
selections that must be there just for the Spectator judges. I mean, who is going to spend $900 on a Lafite
Rothschild to go with their pad Thai?

Still, the wine list is a fun read and, judging from the cooking, Monsoon Thai takes its food seriously, too. A serious
kitchen means a delighted diner. Your pleasure is in direct proportion to the cooks' painstaking.

Seated in the glass-walled garden room another evening, we were presented with a complimentary amuse-bouche:
a tiny crisp patty of corn kernels seasoned with curry paste, fried to a golden hue and served with a sweetly vegetal
cucumber sauce.

An appetizer platter ($14.99) held satay, bamboo skewers of marinated chicken strips that somehow retained their
juices even through chargrilling, "lollipops" of shrimp paste molded onto sugarcane sticks, also grilled, provided a
substantive contrast to the mound of mee krop, the sticky fried noodle dish that always seems to me should
replace popcorn and candy in movie theaters.

Po pia sod, fresh spring rolls of shrimp, cilantro, mint, bean sprouts, lettuce and translucent cucumber slivers in a
membrane of rice paper, are one of the glories of Southeast Asian cuisine. Utterly manipulated 9 cooked, layered,
rolled and dipped in dark chili sauce 9 they nevertheless define the idea of freshness the way few raw foods ever do.

The peak gai, golden-fried "angel wings," presented chicken wings re-imagined to a near-decadent extent. Boned
and stuffed with glass noodles mixed with minced chicken meat, onions and black mushrooms, they showed what
wonders can be made of such a humble part of the chicken.

In tom ka ghai ($4.99 cup; $12.99 bowl), the definitive Thai soup, the spectrum of flavors and scents rolled onto the
tongue and out the nose. From the sweet fullness of coconut milk to the tang of Thai lime leaves and lemon grass
and the bite of chili to the perfume of galangal and earthiness of mushrooms.

Panang curry ($17.99, with shrimp), one of the classic Thai curries (the others are red, green, yellow and
massaman), bathed the slivered bell peppers, onions and shrimp with a film of coconut milk mixed with Thai lime
leaves, Thai basil (sharper than the Italian variety), lemon grass 9 is this sounding familiar? The ingredients in
many Thai dishes seem to be identical; but somehow, proportion and timing work a magic that means each dish
leaves a different predominant impression: hot, spicy, sweet, perfumed.

So the pla chu chee ($16.99), a thick, pearly piece of cod, again combined coconut, curry, basil and vegetables, but
this dish came out more savory, less sweet than it might read.

Lad nar sen yai noodles ($11.99) were a savory stew, the bean and oyster gravy unifying the Thai broccoli,
vegetables and wide flat noodles into a single flavor. And spicy mint noodles ($12.99) were the star entree, the
brightness of the fresh mint leaves sharp and edgy against the slippery noodles. (We chose chicken from a
selection of proteins.)

Keith Chan, owner of Monsoon Thai and Bangkok Thai on Main in Park City, didn't start out as a restaurateur. But
he ended up there and has stayed there because of a self-described passion for the food business, a passion
evidently shared by his meticulous chefs, executive chef Sinlap VongsayCQ and Khaophone Thongphanh, and by
his service staff, who seem to have a genuine and knowledgeable enthusiasm and admirable hunger for the
kitchen's food.

In a nutshell: Monsoon Thai takes its wine list as seriously as its curry; to dine here is to revel in the combination
of the two.

Where: 1615 S. Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City; 801-583-5339
Hours: Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.
2028 Kuhio Ave,
Honolulu, HI
(808) 951-9355
Thai Siam
1435 South State Street
SLC, Utah
(801) 474-3322
Arun Thai
28 Macleay Street
Potts Point NSW
Phone (02) 9326 9135
Mekong (2)
1726 S King St
Honolulu, HI
(808) 941-6212
Mekong (1)
1295 S Beretania St
Honolulu, HI
(808) 591-8842
Green Hotel
182-184 Oxford Street
Paddington, NSW
Phone (02) 9332 3133
Thai Nesia
243 Oxford St
Darlinghurst NSW
Phone (02) 9361 4817
Thai Cooking Site
1968 E. Murray-Holladay Rd.
SLC, Utah
(801) 277-3658