Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chaba Thai

9700 Medlock Bridge Rd., Duluth

My friend John and I ate lunch here today. I live in Smyrna and work in Buckhead, so Duluth is a little out of the way for me, but John has eaten there several times in the past couple of months and promised it would be worth the drive.

Chaba Thai is a smallish Thai restaurant and grill in a fairly upscale shopping center in Duluth. Inside there are about a dozen tables and a two-seater bar. It's a nice break from the Garrison's chain, or God forbid the Twisted Kilt, located in the same shopping center. The restaurant appeared clean and attractive. It looked traditionally Thai without verging on tacky. An odd note: the music playing seemed to be recorded karaoke versions of hit R&B tunes. I'm not sure why anybody would want to mess with Mary J. Blige's music, but apparently someone else does.

We began our meal with fresh basil rolls, which contained fresh prawns, crab meat, steamed chicken, lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots and noodles wrapped in steamed rice paper and accompanied by a tamarind sauce with chopped peanuts. The roll was cut into eight 2" pieces much like sushi roll slices. The roll was light and tasty, a great appetizer in the sense that it wasn't filling but piqued my interest in the rest of the meal. Our next course was the Hot and Sour (Tom-Yum) seafood soup. This lovely soup's broth took it's wonderful flavor from coconut milk, chicken stock, lime juice and red chilis, and included mushrooms, shrimp, cilantro, and perfectly tender scallops and calamari. It was presented to us in a traditional metal pot and remained suitably hot throughout the meal.

Our main course was one of the house specials, the sea bass with green curry. This is John's favorite dish at Chaba Thai, and he has raved about it on several occasions. I am a huge fan of green curry (I make a great version at my house using Nigel Slater's recipe), and I think I set a high standard for this quintessentially Thai sauce. Chaba Thai makes an excellent green curry, thick and sweeter than Slater's recipe. The sea bass is itself was very good, and it is available either pan fried or steamed. We chose to have it pan fried, and I enjoyed the crisp, non-greasy breading. John prefers the fish to be steamed, and claims that the breading on the fried fish soaks up too much of the curry and dissipates its flavor. If any of my readers have tried this dish, I'd love to get your opinion on the cooking methods.

On the service side, our waitress was friendly and attentive without being overbearing. No complaints there.

Verdict: A definite neighborhood gem for Duluth residents. The fresh, quality cuisine is worth the drive on the weekends for the rest of metro Atlanta.

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