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Krua Thai in Monterey

e.d. | Jul 26, 200505:08 PM

Tipped off by friends that Krua Thai had new owners and was serving good food, I managed to make it in there for two good meals. While the restaurant, located at 731 Munras Ave across from Casa Munras, has many $5.50 lunch specials, both times I ate with friends and we shared several dishes. I only got a quick taste of the Pad Thai, but it seemed richer in flavor than the one I remember from Barn Thai. A stir-fry with vegetables and shrimp disappeared so fast I didn't even get a taste of it.

One thing I learned from my two visits is that the restaurant knows how to properly spice its dishes. Dishes that should be mild were mild; dishes that should be spicy were spicy. In fact, I would recommend ordering all dishes medium on your first visit because the kitchen is capable of turning out some things very very hot. I made the mistake of ordering the papaya salad very spicy and ended up with a dish that made my eyes water, my nose run, and my tongue burn. And I'm very used to eating spicy Mexican food. What's more, all the meals are accompanied by four little pots containing chilies and chili sauces, so one can always spice up a dish that is not hot enough.

A couple of the dishes that I got to taste were just okay. The chicken tom yum soup had a richly flavored, deeply savory broth, but I found the ingredients—raw mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, and chicken slices—not as varied as I would have liked. The chu chee trout was topped with a rich red curry filled with barely cooked bell pepper strips, but the trout itself had been deep-fried for just a second or two too long. While the fish had been deboned perfectly and had a good flavor, it was a touch too dry.

Most of the dishes, on the other hand, were outstanding. The mussels in clay pot were a wonderful appetizer, featuring fresh, perfectly cooked mussels in a succulent broth flavored with lemon grass and basil. The dish made me wish that they served bread with Thai food because I wanted something to soak up all that outstanding liquid. The Penang curry, which we ordered with pork, was everything you would want in a Thai curry. The rich creamy curry sauce was filled with pork slices, baby corns, bell pepper slices, and carrots.

Two other dishes were at least as tasty as the mussels and the curry. The laab kai, which is chicken finely chopped with onions and peppers, was flavorful and very spicy. Served with a wedge of cabbage, the chicken is meant to be eaten in a little cabbage wrapper. The combination of flavors and textures was outstanding. The dish described as super duck on the menu was indeed super. The duck, perfectly roasted so that its skin was crispy and most of the fat was burned away, had been deboned, chopped into pieces, and served with a light sauce on top of steamed bok choy. While not spicy, the dish was profoundly flavorful and a nice contrast to the other items we had ordered.

Krua Thai is the best Thai food I have eaten on the peninsula in many years. While the ambience is nothing special, the service was competent and friendly. The menu also offers many interesting choices. I would happily go back again.


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