This gay-owned restaurant, at 445 Central Ave in revitalized downtown Saint Petersburg, (tel. no.: 727 898-8056), is very popular with both the gay and straight customers looking for tasty Thai cuisine and a Shushi bar all rolled into one place. On most nights, even weekday ones, the restaurant is at least two-thirds filled, and more so during the weekends. The fact it is open on Sundays is a bonus to the downtown district since it is hard to find a restaurant open in this town on that day.
My review of this restaurant comes from having dropped by numerous times. To be honest, early in my "youth," I often took my first dates to this restaurant! I figured if the date was a bust, at least I can have a good meal! I also grew up in a family involved in running a restaurant and catering business; so cooking is my "therapy" when my students begin to behave bizarrely.
As you walk in, you realize the establishment has a gay yet distinctively Asian, vibe. The servers, both men and women, are attractive and attentive. There is a unique Thai charm exuded by the wait staff; they speak softly and move quietly. Growing up in Malaysia myself, I can appreciate these Asian mannerisms. It certainly beats hearing servers yelling at each other above the din of the diners' chatter! The decor features the usual suspects for a Thai restaurant--the obligatory traditionally clad figurines, silky bright table linen, even a Buddhist shrine--but Brian, the owner, has added his own gay twist such as a canopy for the bathroom (check it out!), fresh flowers on the tables, faux leather chairs, and cloth napkins. And did I say that your food comes with little petals of flowers? How much more pansy can that get? Even the chinaware was straight from Pier I Imports, a somewhat favorite store among gays, unless one is a Pottery Barn gay who find Pier 1 too chintzy. ! And thank god, he changed the lighting recently from harsh, florescent lighting to more subdued, tapered ones that that evoke a much more cosy, even romantic ambience. Besides, why would I want anyone to discern all these developing wrinkles on my face? No wonder in the many visits of mine, I saw often gay couples looking dreamily at each other or was it lust?
The food I would say on the whole is good to excellent, and like most Thai food in this town, inexpensive with most entrees ranging from about $8.00 to $13.00 or so. Most appetizers and salads are below $6.00. Let's put it this way--you will have enough money left to liquor up your date.
Their fresh salads are must orders because they are incredibly fresh and they undoubtedly tantalize the taste buds in orgasmic ways. Who knows, you might forget all the "evil" intentions that you might have for your date later on. Ditto for their soups, of which the Tom Yum Khai (sweet and sour soup with bits of meat or chicken or shrimp) is one of the best.
However, I am not a fan of their popular, possibly the most ordered dish, Pad Thai as I found it too greasy for my palate, but I know friends who really devoured it. They have a few other noodle dishes that I think are superior to Pad Thai, but it is just my personal opinion.
Between the fried spring rolls and the fresh rice paper version, my pick is the latter. I have ate there numerous times, and each time, the fried version, while crunchingly crispy, is quite low on the filling. Often, I forlornly look at the filling, as though it had abandoned me, which is the story of my life where men are concerned! The fresh version packs more flavor too, served with the nutty, sweet hoisin flavored sauce. I also enjoy their delectable, tender satay, which is marinated grilled thinly sliced chicken on bamboo skewers served with a peanut sauce. The sauce, however, is a bit too sweet for me.
My favorite part of the menu would be the curries, ranging from Panang to red to green to yellow, all of which are always well seasoned. Do not order them Thai spicy, unless you would like to live dangerously! Most customers choose from mild to medium to spicy.
Sometimes I indulge in the crispy, double fried (I think) duck dish, which you can order with your choice of several different sauces, from sugary mild to very curried spicy. I give two-thumbs up for this cholesterol-clogging dish, as sinful as it is! The portion is so huge that often I have had to take a doggy bag home. And yes, my dog loved it!
The menu also features Chinese inspired, but often infused with herbs such as cilantro, basil, or mint, stir fried dishes, which I personally still think lacks a tiny bit of punch; either the dishes are missing more ginger, garlic, or onions. My take on the stir fry dishes is that they have been somewhat Americanized to reduce say, the garlicky nature of such dishes. I tear my hair and roll my eyes upward each time that happens. I do recommend the signature dessert, sticky sweet rice with mango served with a sweet coconut sauce. It is sweetly heavenly!
Do note that the portions at this restaurant, compared to their competitors in the same neighborhood, are slightly smaller. I guess this restaurant needed to find ways to save a buck or two given the cost of its ambience. Then again, class never comes cheap, or are we talking about men now? However, on the whole, this restaurant, makes it up via a better quality of food, semi-upscale ambience, and a highly attentive staff. Try the restaurant for lunch too, especially in this age of economic downtown since prices are lower for the lunch menu, though not all dinner items are available at lunch prices. Try it if you are not sure if your date is worth the hefty dinner bill. The Shushi bar offers the usual range of offerings, and my experience is that the fish and other ingredients are very fresh.