You know how red or green or panang curries can taste fairly similar from Thai restaurant to Thai restaurant? There's a reason for that. Many perfectly reasonable and lovely places start with a commercial curry paste. Mae Ploy and Maesri are common brands at Asian groceries, and even regular supermarkets sell Thai Kitchen. It's the rare Thai restaurant that makes all its own sauces and curries from scratch.
Thai Legacy is that rare restaurant.
Opened at the beginning of February at the site of the previous Thai Boat Restaurant, it is a family affair. Perry Saeiab, 27, and his parents, father Pitug Saeiab and mother Preeda Saeiab, took the plunge with their first restaurant. A University of Florida graduate, Perry spent time in the banking industry before embracing his culinary legacy. Pitug learned to cook from his own parents, his father from Hong Kong and his mother from Thailand, and he passed that knowledge on to Perry.
Preeda mans the front of the house, a spacious square with a spare and pretty aesthetic. (They removed the boat that decorated the previous tenant.) In addition to all of the scratch-made sauces and curries, another thing that distinguishes Thai Legacy is a full, separate vegan menu. In fact, very little Thai food relies on dairy products, so remove the animal protein and you're good to go. Come to think of it, Thai food isn't gluten-intensive either, so gluten sensitivities can be accommodated easily as well.
Meals start with a bowl of complimentary shrimp toasts with a slow-smolder chili sauce. (Dip one and then listen to it crackle, Rice Krispies-style.) From there, enjoy a little something fried, either cigar-thick house-made egg rolls ($5.95), bouncy with clear bean noodles and ground pork, the accompanying sauce a crafty balance of heat and sweet; or the much more exotic stuffed chicken wings, crunchy tempura batter on the outside and a smooth chicken pate inside ($6.95).
Either of these is a crunchy foil for an order of grilled beef salad ($9.95), the thin curls of meat kicky with lime, cilantro and onion. Preeda will ask if you would like your dishes mild, medium, hot or Thai hot — if you say either of the latter two, she will raise her eyebrow at you and seemingly assess your mettle. If you over-ambitiously say "hot," as I did on the grilled beef salad, cool things off with a bowl of thom ka soup ($9.95 for a bowl that serves two to three, $12.95 for a bigger one), an unusual version with a real tang perfumed with lemongrass and lime leaf, cubes of fresh tomato bobbing along with the chicken, onion and cross-sections of fresh mushroom. (It was a species I didn't recognize, like a sturdier shiitake.)
A short beer list and just a handful of wines are on offer along with Thai iced tea, Thai coffee and soft drinks, all acceptable quenchers when trying to put out the fire of red curry chicken ($9.95), the deep brick sauce dotted with bits of jalapeno and twists of fresh basil leaf, the coconut milk richness all you need to demolish a dome of jasmine rice. (You have the option of sticky rice, served in a little plastic-lined basket, really something of an acquired taste.) Thai Legacy's green curry ($9.95) is even more compelling, especially if you opt for the fish meatballs as your protein, the springy orbs paired up with soft cubes of eggplant and fresh button mushrooms.
One of my all-time favorite Thai foods gets a twist here: Mango and sticky rice ($5.95) comes with lengths of the fruit alongside a big quenelle of pale purple rice, wild rice strands adding color and toothsome texture to the white rice, a little swirl of sweet coconut milk upping the plushness. Now eat this alternating with bites of Asian crepe roti ($3.95), kind of like puff pastry mated with a pizza, the whole thing sticky with a layer of sweetened condensed milk: crispy, sweet and buttery tasting.
The Saeiab family is offering dishes you've seen before — pad Thai, chicken satay — but their reliance on from-scratch cooking makes Thai Legacy a different kind of gift to Brandon.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.