Key Learning: God Is in
The Thai Royal Basil
I was so furious with myself. What kind of a food critic turns up for a return visit to a restaurant he wants to review without booking? And, what’s more, right before his deadline? Downright unprofessional, that’s what I’d say. But, as the human resources pundits would have it, it was a “key learning” (ugh!). I promise it won’t happen again if I can help it. Luckily, I managed to nip back for another try at lunchtime the next day.
Madame Shawn’s owner, Jittini Wangsin, is something of a serial entrepreneur, with three branches of her Thai restaurant, plus a stylish boutique selling Southeast Asian homewares. She must be a formidable businesswoman to run a small empire in this business-unfriendly country of ours. Her place near République offers a very fine sampling of Thai recipes that combine all the right flavors, uncompromising heat from the chilies and fetching presentation.
The decor is cozy, understated ethnic, with lots of wood and rattan, a dark slate floor, bas-reliefs of blissful Buddhas on the walls and an orchid on each table. It seats around 40 and probably does a couple of hundred covers a day, judging by the crowds I saw at my second (unsuccessful) and third (successful) visits. Reservations are obviously essential.
My lovely pho pia starter – a cross between Chinese spring rolls and Vietnamese nem, with a peanut/fish dipping sauce, fresh mint and carrot – ignited a warm glow, while my companion and I were both ecstatic about her marinated raw shrimp with garlic and mint.
We chose an organic wine from Domaine du Petit Roubié, a Vin de Pays de l’Hérault, at a very reasonable €25. Petit Roubié’s cheap, pleasant, entry-level tipple is one I buy from Nysa on Rue Montorgueil for everyday quaffing, but this one, L’Arbre Blanc, was definitely a cut above. Madame Shawn also sells it by the glass. It has all the character it needs to give great pleasure in its own right and act as a foil to the assertive Thai cuisine.
A red chicken curry in coconut sauce was more than I could hope for, and a dish of stir-fried spaghetti (not noodles) with plump shrimp had enough distinctive Thai royal basil and lime leaves in it to prove the existence of God (a much more convincing argument than the “prime mover” one I was fed at school).
I could go on, because the only time I’m happier than when writing about food is when I’m sampling it, but I do have to get on the phone to book my next table. No more screwups…
Madame Shawn Thai Cuisine: 34, rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 08 05 07. Metro: République or Jacques Bonsergeant. Nearest Vélib stations: 14, rue de Marseille; 8 Place Jacques Bonsergeant. Open daily for lunch and dinner (closed May 1). Fixed price lunch menus: from €12.50. A la carte: around €25*.See Web site for other locations: www.mmeshawn.com
*three courses, not including wine
© 2008 Paris Update
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