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ADRIFT AT SEA

for The Brooklyn Paper
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I’ll admit it. I felt a little tingle after walking through the doors of the new SEA Thai Bistro in Williamsburg.

Yes, I smirked a bit at the sight of the nubile young women perched atop the restaurant’s hanging swings, and a couple passionately kissing in the Valley of the Dolls-style plastic chair. The reigning queen of popularity and impossibly blonde cheerleader of my high school, Lanie Buntner, came to mind.

I imagined asking, "Hey, Lanie. How’s life in the suburbs? And the three kids? Me? The usual. Hanging out at SEA. SEA, the Thai restaurant in Williamsburg? I’m there all the time."

Without missing a single, up-to-the-minute restaurant design motif, SEA embraces all that is current - a Zen-inspired visual stroking; a "yes, I belong" nod of affirmation for those who have never doubted their hip quotient and those who secretly do.

If you guessed that the room’s logo is the fish, or a fish tail or maybe its fin then you’re too banal for this place. The bubble is the buoyant logo that surfaces in various forms about the loft-like space. A huge, mirrored, disco ball casts shimmering, bubble-like reflections on the walls; wooden partitions with brightly lit, cut out bubbles, in tones of red and green, divide the restaurant into different dining areas.

There are two bars: one smallish, intimate one in the front and a larger one in the back. Center stage of this "Eyes-Wide-Shut"-techno-playground is a large pool presided over by a life-size golden Buddha. A small wooden boat filled with deep purple and white orchids floats about the Buddha’s ankles. Couples sit along the border of the pool on cutting-edge (I mean cutting-edge. You’ll understand after an hour) wooden tables with matching benches. Without the DJ’s continuous stream of loud, pulsing club music, the room might seem serene.

Around SEA, large groups of young diners ate, drank and partied. Why not? If you’re willing to forgo the designer drinks (I don’t recommend passing up the mouth-tingling, pineapple-ginger martini with its shards of chewy raw ginger) and you stick to curry or one of the noodle dishes, it’s possible to get away with a $20 tab and feel oh so hip while you’re at it.

What a glamorous room. If only the food lived up to it.

The owners of SEA are Mr. Lenny Lim and Mr. Kiti Lerpanaluck who operate the small chain of three Spice and one SEA Thai restaurants in Manhattan. While SEA offers a greater selection of seafood dishes than the Spice restaurants, the menu is similar and contains the same flaws that plague the kitchens of its Manhattan cousins: stellar dishes aside duds; beautifully plated arrangements that are sometimes flat on the palate; and occasionally, heavy, over-sweetened sauces.

Nothing could be more attractive on the plate than the jade seafood dumplings. A cluster of pale, pistachio-colored wrappers, fluted along the top, sit in a puddle of slightly sweet, mild, apricot-colored massaman sauce. Stuffed with a mixture of tender crab meat and shrimp, the dumplings were given some oomph from the sauce, but that pretty ruffle of wonton ends up as a mouthful of gumminess - nibble around it and you’ll appreciate the delicacy of the dumplings’ flavors.

Mussels in a light, clear lemongrass broth lacked the distinctive, briny mussel flavor I love. The broth though, with its acidic notes of lemongrass, galangal (a root with a peppery, ginger-like flavor) and lime leaf, enhanced by crisp slices of green pepper, tasted clean yet complex.

Salads, noodles and curries are offered as entrees, but seafood is considered SEA’s specialty. Jumbo shrimp in a clay pot looked promising. An abundance of pink, oversized shrimp, served over vermicelli in a clay pot, were bland and somewhat mealy. The vermicelli absorbed the dish’s gingery broth, and velvety chunks of bok choy lent the entree textural interest and a satisfying depth of flavor.

Here’s the dud: the dark SEA fish. Nothing, not even an assertively flavored, perfectly cooked filet of salmon, could withstand the ladle-full of cloying, over-sweetened oyster sauce, too heavily laced with soy sauce. The salmon practically floated in it. Over the top of the fish were slivers of harsh, raw ginger, and a mound of julienned carrots added nothing to the dish. Even a side of nicely sticky black-and-white rice, mixed with some of the sauce, did little to tame its aggressiveness.

Why put pecan pie on the menu of a Thai restaurant?

I tasted it and still don’t know. A thoroughly American version, this gooey pie, plenty sweet on its own, comes topped with a hearty spoonful of honey. Microwaved to the temperature of hot coal, it nearly glowed.

A vivid, grass-hued, green tea ice cream, served in a long, glass beaker, was not sweet and tasted cleanly of the astringent tea.

Despite its culinary flaws, SEA is the perfect place to take out-of-town guests who want a "cool, New York-style" dining experience. My in-laws would love it. Lanie would unearth her dusty pom-poms and give it a foot-stamping, hip-swinging cheer.

 

SEA Thai Bistro (114 North Sixth St. between Wythe and Berry streets in Williamsburg) accepts Visa and MasterCard. Entrees: $6-$13. For reservations, call (718) 384-8850

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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