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Thai Seas

Merlion in Seabrook has the best Thai seafood this side of Phuket

For one of our entrées, Dave and I get kang kua supparos with shrimp. It's a yellow curry with pineapple pieces that's both spicy and sweet, not to mention decadently rich, with lots of thick coconut cream coating each piece of shrimp. We also sample a tart and spicy seafood medley called phad bai gaprao with shrimp, crawfish and calamari tossed with garlic, chile peppers, onions, scallions and whole Thai basil leaves. And plenty of lime juice.

Dave and I go back and forth trying to decide which dish we like more. While the shrimp curry with pineapple is outstanding, it might be too rich. Meanwhile, the tartness of the lime juice in the mixed seafood gets a little intense. But interestingly, these dishes balance each other perfectly. So we take turns eating a few bites of one and then a few bites of the other.

We take an order of pad thai back home to a hungry teenager, who declares it just average. With a few bites off her plate, I confirm her judgment. The pad thai is a meager amalgamation of noodles, lime juice and sprouts with little in the way of flavor.

Merlion Restaurant has several spectacular dishes -- 
thanks to its ready access to seafood.
Troy Fields
Merlion Restaurant has several spectacular dishes -- thanks to its ready access to seafood.

Details

Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Shrimp-and-mushroom soup: $6.95
Shrimp in phanang curry: $18.95
Shrimp in pineapple curry: $17.95
Garlic chile seafood: $17.95
Red snapper curry: $17.95
Corn cakes: $5.95

1101 Second Street in Seabrook, 281-474-7916

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The Thai spring rolls I sampled at Merlion came to the table still frozen in the center. The rolls were garnished with a piece of lettuce that was black and slimy along the edges. And a Thai salad turned out to be nothing but romaine, cukes, tomatoes and scallions with some shrimp tossed in. The menu also includes a lot of things I would never order, like crabmeat-and-cream-cheese rolls and stuffed chicken breast.

Merlion is not an exceptional Thai restaurant. It is a good, solid Thai restaurant with exceptional seafood dishes, thanks to its proximity to the fishing fleet. The chef has the good sense not to overcook the shrimp and to buy it fresh every day. And when you combine perfectly cooked seafood with even average Thai curries and garlic chile sauces, you get something very special.

Freshly caught, never-been-frozen shrimp is a culinary treat few Americans will ever experience. It's available only to those who live within an easy drive of a shrimp boat. Whether you go down to Seabrook and buy some at the seafood market, or stop by a restaurant like Merlion that uses it in its cooking, you should take advantage of this local delicacy.

Of course, the best idea is to stick a cooler in the backseat of your car, stop by the seafood market and pick up some shrimp in the afternoon, and then go to Merlion for dinner. That way you get twice the shrimp and half the traffic.

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