Simple in '96!

Pattaya Thai

2627 E. Franklin Ave.

Minneapolis

375-9942

NO MATTER WHAT the new year brings, you will still need to carry on eating. I don't know if this depresses you as much as it does me. Sometimes I tire of all the to-do surrounding this most basic of human endeavors; this year, for as long as my resolve lasts, I shall look for a plainness, a sense of quiet taste and circumspection, in my favorite dining spots.

Start with Pattaya Thai. It has everything a rational person should want when going out to eat. It's cheap, quiet, clean, and the food tastes good. Nothing fancy, no fawning wait staff, no live music or dancers to knock you about, and no heedful decor. Perhaps the setting will strike you as a bit unadorned at first, but you can always use empty table space to spread out your newspapers, maps, and secret journals. The quiet can be a trifle unnerving at first, but after a while the sound of chopsticks clinking against the bowls takes on an orchestral feel. (It's a modern piece, admittedly.) Pattaya Thai lets you make of it what you will; someone politely takes your order, serves your food, and quietly disappears until you want something again. The staff seem to have an uncanny sense about when you need them.

Appetizers are constructed to overfeed. Fresh spring rolls come four to an order ($2.50), each one fatter than your fist and bursting from its paper wrapper with dried mushrooms, silver-threaded noodles, carrots, shrimp, and barbecued pork, served with a homemade sauce that smacks of vinegar and peanuts. The regular, fried spring rolls ($2.50/$2.25 vegetarian) seem awfully plain in comparison, though tasty nonetheless. If you wish to treat yourself more regally, consider the crispy noodle ball ($3.75), a combination of spiced chicken and pork enfolded in thin noodles, all of which is fried and served with a sweet and sour sauce. The paradise chicken wings ($3.50), deboned and stuffed with silver-thread noodles, pork, mushrooms, and waterchestnuts, were a pleasant surprise as well.

Entrée portions are likewise generous, with favorite Thai standards such as toam yum with chicken, a tub-sized bowl of lemon-grass soup spiked with red pepper ($6.25); erawan steak salad, a cold salad garnished with thin strips of lemony beef and tossed with coriander ($3.50); and chicken sautéed in peanut-curry sauce ($6.50). Even my cousin Tony, an active, sporting, and growing teenage boy, was defeated by his portion of red chicken curry; a mere $6.50 was all it took to overfeed this mass of acne, brawn, piss, and vinegar. This left something for the rest of us to try our hand at, and we soon made short work of his leftover chicken, bamboo shoots, and green pepper rice dish. For those of you who are particular about your red chicken curry (and you have every right to be), I can honestly say that the stuff at Pattaya Thai is the best in town for the money. If you were forced to find fault, I suppose you could wish it to be a bit less soupy and a bit more fragrant with basil.

But such fault-finding is work for the knavish; we personally were delighted by the coconut milk and curry paste potion that soon had our faces burning with exotic shades of red. Also highly recommended are the spicy noodles ($5.50), which we found more enjoyable more than the pad Thai (also $5.50), and certainly more stirring--a knot of stir-fried rice noodles piled together with seared tomatoes, white onions, and abundant pieces of succulent white chicken, all enhanced with the intoxicating mixture of hot red chili sauce and sweet basil leaves. It's finished with a sprinkling of fresh chives and peanuts.

Desserts are mild and comforting, which is just what you need after consuming copious quantities of spice. If the season is right, you can slurp down ripe mangoes and sticky rice; if not, there's always the intriguing durian fruit and sticky rice, or Thai custard and sticky rice, all $3. Sweeter than all of these, though, is the Thai Tea and coffee, served hot or cold, depending on your preference. Served in glass beer mugs, they don't skimp on the sweetened condensed milk here. It fills almost half the glass, and what a wonderful thing it is.

TABLEHOPPING

YES YOU CAN! If you're looking for the perfect pie plate, despair no more. You're bound to turn up something at Doin' the Dishes, a design-it-yourself pottery store newly opened in Minneapolis (3008 W. 50th St.; 924-8980). Co-owner Paul Rosenthal reassures, "Whether you're artistically inclined or not, designing your own pottery is easy, creative, and a lot of fun. The studio will offer a relaxing, stimulating environment and the actual process of design and glazing is very forgiving. If you don't like the direction you're going, you can simply rinse it off and start over." Professional ceramics-makers are on staff to educate and guide beginners through the process. Prices for individual pieces start at $5, and design time is $5 an hour.

MAYBE YOU CAN, maybe you can't: Are you trying desperately to become a vegetarian without aid or succor from your carnivorous friends? Want to find out what the vegans are wearing this spring? Well then, obviously what you need is a subscription to Veggie Life, "the magazine for those interested in plant-based nutrition." It's got the inside dirt on everything from sowing organic gardens to cultivating plants and creating recipes and remedies that will improve your health, sex life, and complexion. And remember--they couldn't say it if it weren't true! For further information, contact J. Hugues Boisset at (510) 671-9852; or send e-mail to veged@ccnet.com

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