Thai Garden is, first of all, a neighborhood spot, and a place where you can stop in with a bottle of wine. One night, a “girl’s night out” group brought beer and shared entrees communally, massive plates with greens and noodles and shrimp. It doesn’t have to get more complicated than that, but Thai Garden has tried anyway, leading to an inscrutable mishmash of high and low. Plants were placed in front to offset the strip center location. Thin bamboo rods covered the walls to dress up the interior. The food seemed homey, like Mom’s version of Thai, yet it was artfully presented on big angular plates. The appetizer medley came on a wooden lazy Susan with a burner in the center, just like the “pu-pu platter” you’d see at ’70s Chinese restaurants. But nearly everything on it—corn fritters, shrimp wrapped in won-ton—was deep-fried, even chicken satay, the skewers of meat, which are usually grilled. The one exception was a beautiful spring roll with shrimp, its rice-paper wrapper soft and fresh. The menu has dozens of items, some of which you may not have seen elsewhere, such as “Thai stir fried paste,” and there are definite Chinese undertones, with dishes such as sesame chicken along with the curries and coconut soups you expect at a Thai place. The secret here is that, to prepare the basic ingredients, they use good fresh vegetables and they don’t use chicken broth or fish sauce—perfect for vegetarians and even vegans. Go ahead and order your stir-fried noodles with chicken, beef, or tofu. But the combination of vegetables, noodles, and lively Thai basil is perfectly good on its own.
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