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Sunday Spice

An interesting twist on the standard Sunday-brunch fare of omelets and French toast can be had at Thai Spice, the only Thai restaurant in town I know of that offers a Sunday brunch buffet.

It's no surprise that Thai food, sturdy and intensely flavored, holds up well on a buffet's steam table. In fact, if I have a complaint with Thai Spice's brunch, it's that the dishes tend to fall prey to the all-too-common trap of steam-table fare: too much oil. But otherwise, not one of the dishes failed to please. From the bizarre, ripe tasting chicken larb (a salad, more or less, made from ground chicken, fish sauce and vegetables) to the gentle, if over oily, rice cakes (which are custom-fried into snowy half-globes before being turned into chafing dishes) to the jazzy curry puffs (sort of mini-empanadas stuffed with a mixture of chicken, potato and onion) to the gloriously sticky mee krob, the offerings on the salad/appetizer table could suffice for a full meal.

But you'll probably want to save room for a trip to the entree table, where a rich stew of head-on shrimp (a touch iodiney, unfortunately), oversized trumpets of calamari and mussels that really tasted of the sea were all lent a citrusy, buttery infusion by the broth. At least two kinds of curry are usually offered: a frisky, sweetish yellow chicken curry and an authoritative, soulful red beef curry. While my companions found the sauteed green beans too tough, I liked them just fine. They're served with smoked pork and come off glazed (which means they're just this side of greasy) and smoky. A fish soup that could be the pride of any Thai restaurant reminded me of a good home-style product in that it appeared to be a blending of leftovers; the fish skin floating about didn't adulterate the soup's sharp, lime-flavored essence at all.

In a nice touch, though one that might prove to be a problem during the upcoming hot months, the satay grill is located on Thai Spice's tiny balcony. The meats were exceedingly tender, and a layer of oil glistened tantalizingly at the top of the accompanying peanut sauce -- just as it had at the top of most of the curries and around the crisp, otherwise excellent spring rolls. The best way to cut these unctuous textures and aggressive flavors, I found, is Thai Spice's homemade lemonade, made stout by the addition of a hit of salt.

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Thai Spice was opened in the Village in late February by Pat Ratana; Orasinee Ratana, Pat's wife and the former owner of the late, beloved Thai Orchid on Bellaire, is head chef. So far, they seem to have gotten off to a good start. If nothing else, they can claim they've already made Sunday a little more special. -- Kelley Blewster

Thai Spice, 5117 Kelvin, 522-5100.

Thai Spice:
Sunday brunch, $8.95; lemonade, $1.75.

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