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Friday, January 31, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

Simply Paradise covers Thai basics and makes foray into the unusual

Special to The Seattle Times

Simply Paradise


406 Broadway E., 206-726-0808.

Thai

$$

Recommended

Hours:

5 p.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thurdays; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays; noon-11 p.m. Saturdays; noon-9 p.m. Sundays.

No obstacles / credit cards: MC, V/ no liquor license.

When the World Wrapps on Broadway shut its doors last year, the ample space needed a new tenant with big dreams. And when workers installed a burbling fountain in the front window, replete with faux tropical foliage, it was clear they had one. It just wasn't clear whether it would be a Polynesian tiki lounge or a Brazilian caipirinha bar.

But you won't be sitting around the fountain in your grass skirt, sipping an umbrella drink, because Simply Paradise doesn't have a liquor license yet — and besides, it's a Thai restaurant, the second outpost of an incipient local chain that began at Simply Thai at Southcenter.

Simply Paradise does offer good renditions of the Thai-American classics, plus a few unusual items from the Northeastern Thai and Laotian tradition (the owners are from Laos).

The phad Thai ($7.25) and tom yum ($6.25) are good (let's get that out of the way), and the menu features a variety of simple stir-fries with choice of meat or tofu.

But it's worth a detour into the "Grill and Specialties" section of the menu where you'll find steamed fish in banana leaves ($8.50), catfish mousse with herbs and spices that's on the salty side, but smooth and unique.

It's hard to avoid the feeling that behind the fountain and the wicker chairs, the phad Thai and the tom kha gai, there is a special restaurant trying to escape from the Seattle Thai mold but afraid of scaring away customers.

This is too bad, because Laos is full of wonderful food: salads, sausages, soups and grilled chicken (unfortunately, Simply Paradise's Lemongrass Grilled Chicken, $7.95, was mealy and overcooked).

The menu says "South-East Asian Cuisine," but the diner never ends up far from the safety of central and northeast Thailand.

Service is well-meaning but scattered — you may get the sense that your waiter is working on his screenplay during service. And don't hang around for dessert until they expand their offerings beyond the "Asian custard," which was a disaster — a slab of greenish, overcooked egg custard garnished with canned pineapple and shredded vegetables.

You may be left with the question of how Simply Paradise fits into the Broadway Thai hierarchy. Aside from the hints at greatness in some of its more unusual dishes, there is one thing that makes the restaurant truly unique: Once its liquor license comes through, Simply Paradise will be one of the few Thai places on the strip that features a full bar.

Check please

Chicken Salad (Larb): In this Laotian chicken salad, chopped white-meat chicken is topped with a dressing of lime and fish sauce and a sprinkle of roasted rice powder. Unfortunately, a good mix of flavors was marred by tough meat.

Laos Sausage: In Thailand and Laos, a popular snack is small and spicy pork sausage links wrapped in lettuce leaves with bits of ginger, chilies and peanuts. Not enough Thai-American restaurants do this wonderful dish, but Simply Paradise handles it well, with thin slices of flavorful sausage and plenty of piquant accompaniments.

Tiger Tearless Steak: Obviously, for this price, you're not getting prime steak, but this place knows how to treat an inexpensive piece of meat: marinate it with ginger, lemongrass, garlic and herbs, and grill it medium rare. The accompanying steamed vegetables (cauliflower and asparagus on my last visit) are unseasoned, and the "homemade Laotian tomato chutney sauce" packs little punch. Luckily, the meat can carry itself.

Pineapple Fried Rice with shrimp: The hollowed-out pineapple may be a gimmick, but the wok-fried rice and vegetables are smoky, loaded with nicely cooked shrimp, and not too sweet.

Itemized bill, meal for 2

Chicken Salad $6.25

Laos Sausage $7.50

Tiger Tearless Steak $12.50

Pineapple Fried Rice with shrimp $8.25

Sticky rice $1.50

Total $36

Matthew Amster-Burton: mamster@mamster.net

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