Songkran, I've been told, is all about purging the misfortune and evil of the previous 12 months and starting anew, usually after being splashed with water (and lots of it, depending on how much alcohol partiers consume at the festivities). I'm all in favor of getting properly purified, but I'll pass on the water sports, thank you. As an alternative, I wouldn't mind cleansing my mind and body with something intense and fiery, such as the crispy basil-chicken wings served at the Thailand Café. Those addictive bird wings have a deceptively sweet, caramelized exterior that masks the peppery punch that hits a few bites later. It's sinus-clearing stuff, baby. And maybe mind-expanding, too.
This appetizer is one of the many excellent dishes I enjoyed at the one-year-old restaurant before blowing my top (in a deceptively sweet but peppery manner) over one of its bizarre eccentricities -- the fact that no one answers the phone. Not very often, anyway.
You might think that in the 21st century, with phones as readily available as oxygen, modern communication wouldn't be a problem. But I actually had to call Ann Liberda, who owns Kansas City's Thai Place restaurants, to find out why her firstborn son, Michael Napaisan -- the young owner of the Thailand Café -- didn't answer his damned phone. All I wanted to know was what hours the place was open, but in more than a dozen attempts to get someone, anyone, on the line -- calling in the morning, during the lunch shift, at night -- the phone was picked up only once. "It's probably not the best business practice," I suggested to Ann. "Maybe an answering machine with a message explaining the restaurant's location and hours could come in handy."
Liberda didn't understand why her son felt no need to communicate with potential patrons, but after dining in his restaurant twice, I think I get the picture: Michael Napaisan is charming, handsome and a very good cook, and he has his own way of doing things. It's not just eccentric; it's downright weird.
There's a bar in the restaurant, for example, and a pretty decent wine list, but at the moment, no one can order any wine or beer, because Napaisan hasn't renewed his liquor license. (He says he's working on it.) He has mounted TV sets around the mirrored dining room and hung a sign at the front door advertising karaoke, but if you ask Napaisan if he hosts karaoke nights, the answer is no. "Part of the reason is that, with the Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Company next door, we can't be too loud in here until very late at night," Napaisan explains. "And right now, we don't have the staff to do it."
Or booze to ease the inhibitions of potential songbirds, I thought as I looked around the dining room, which was kind of attractive in a dimly lighted-1970s-Vegas-lounge way. The surfaces are shiny and cool: smoky, mirrored panels; brassy light fixtures outfitted with colored lights; vinyl tablecloths; banquettes upholstered in soft leatherette. It's an ambience that practically begs for vintage Nancy Sinatra or Tom Jones over the sound system instead of the tinkly dulcimer music that actually gets played.