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PETE TITTL: Shrimply irresistible at Blue Table Thai Cuisine

The original plan was to visit the new Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar at The Marketplace. We knew we needed reservations to visit when it was downtown, so we called in advance for an early Friday night visit.

Nothing available, sure they take walk-ins, but the woman on the phone was as honest as she could be without saying the exact words “Don’t even try it.” Message received — try a weekday night.

But when you’re all set for Thai food, it’s hard for the brain to shift gears, so we drove up Gosford north of Rosedale Highway to another new restaurant, Blue Table Thai Cuisine. It’s more takeout and delivery with only six tables, and the food may not be as innovative as what the kitchen at Chef’s Choice offers, but let me tell you, in quality and satisfaction this tiny family-run restaurant is gonna please a lot of people. It’s a small storefront operation just north of the Vons store in the shopping center, with laminated tables, functional metal chairs and one TV near the ordering counter.

We probably ordered too much, but it was hard to narrow our choices down to panang curry chicken ($15), drunken noodles with pork ($15), tamarind shrimp ($21, off the signature dishes list) and the sweet sticky rice with mango ($10) for dessert.

(Other dishes we noted on the extensive menu for future visits included the pad thai ($15), fried sea bass ($35), the grilled beef with spicy tamarind sauce called crying tiger ($16), the panang rib-eye ($23) and the crispy garlic chicken ($15), which also had the sweet tamarind sauce.)

The shrimp were stunning. There was a platter of a dozen large, perfectly fresh and brittle-crispy shellfish, with roasted chilis, a tamarind sauce that was not too hot or sweet and crispy onion bits. We debated whether there was coconut in the batter at all — it looked like it, but we weren’t getting the sharp taste it typically provides. It’s always possible they used some coconut oil in the process.

I’m telling you if you love shrimp, this is a must-order. I prefer grilled to fried, but these were so crispy outside and so firm and sweet inside that I’d put it on my must-order list at Blue Table. As a bonus on the side of the platter were perfectly steamed carrot spears and broccoli stalks.

The panang curry is available with pork, beef, tofu, shrimp or vegetarian mock chicken (the options for vegetarians are quite extensive here), but I really don’t think it matters what protein source you use; it’s just a template for the strengths of good Thai food, with lime, coconut milk and a nice taste bud-stimulating curry.

We ordered everything medium, unsure of the spice level, and that works fine, though a man ordering takeout behind us was asking for double spicy. Yeah, he carried a swagger. The menu does say you can even order it not spicy, which is below mild, if you prefer.

In the drunken noodles, the pork was a negligible presence. It was there, we saw it, but it tasted like nothing. Dull. That’s all I got. The flat rice noodles themselves were fine with bits of egg, onions, bell pepper and the perfect amount of basil. Like pad thai, it’s hard to eat Thai without drunken noodles. The rice that came with our chicken and shrimp was fine, but the noodles are soul-soothing.

Dessert was perfect, and we’re at the point that all Thai meals must be closed with sweet sticky rice and mango, probably because the coconut milk and the sugar in the rice is far better than conventional rice pudding and the mango here was exceptionally fresh. We held back finishing all the other food to make sure we had room for this, and that was a wise decision.

Service was only OK, as there was a lag after we’d obviously stopped eating before our waitress reappeared to check on us, but it sure seems like she was taking care of everything herself: the other tables, call-in orders, food delivery people and takeout customers. I will go into my fortune-teller mode right now and say the day is coming when they’ll have to find more help.

Blue Table Thai Cuisine can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter at @pftittl.