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  •  March Schwartz

    AT NATALEE THAI—Enjoy attentive service by Sumitra Rathanapuchpong (from left), Paknavin Khemsap, Sheena Moriarty, manager June Kiatpornsiri and Lidwina Handoyo.
    Photo by Michael Tov

    NATALEE THAI TURNS THE HEAT UP OR DOWN

    By Lorraine and Phil Shapiro

          Dig into a spicy curry at Natalee Thai and discover what fuels vibrant Thai cuisine, the most varied in the world thanks to the confluence of East and West.
          As an Asian crossroads, the food often has the Chinese bite of ginger and green onion as in steamed fillet of sole at $9.25. Satay, now eaten in Thailand as often as in Indonesia where it originated, are skewers of marinated beef or chicken at $6.50.
          And when it comes to color, shape and presentation, the Thais are true artists. At Natalee Thai, the popular Gulf of Thailand shrimp eggroll--a crispy golden packet of seasoned minced shrimp, cut and arranged on a banana leaf—is garnished by a red chile rlower with rosemary stamen at $6.50. Natalee sushi roll with avocado and spicy tuna over crunchy shrimp tempura and rice is graced by avocado and lemon slices, pickled white ginger formed into a rose and wasabi shaped as a leaf at $9.
          Since we frequent Natalee Thai on Robertson Blvd., for a change we visited the Venice Blvd. location at Clarington Ave. in Culver City, serving the same menu. The original Natalee, established in a mini-mall across the street in 1989, has been superceded by a striking modern building with window walls by Coscia Day, who also designed the Robertson property. Inside, seating is at several levels and sections for more privacy, with a full bar and sushi bar in front. The Sushi Bar Lunch, offered Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., starts at $8.95.
          One of the newest dishes on the large menu is the refreshing, shredded green papaya salad sharpened with lime juice, fish sauce, chile and dried shrimp, meant to wrap in crisp romaine leaves at $6.95. Unlike many papaya salads, it’s mildly seasoned, not overwhelmingly hot. Dishes at Natalee are prepared medium hot, but they can be dialed down or tuned up by request.
          Also new is Thai barbecue pork (recipe given), cut in bite-size slices with spicy dipping sauce that’s compelling for its seductive flavor at $7.95. Said Manager June Kiatpornsiri: “It’s already a top seller. Both salad and pork are best eaten with bites of sticky rice (also called sweet rice or glutinous rice).”
          Given the popularity of rice, it’s no wonder that rice noodles frequently are eaten, especially Pad Thai, considered the national dish. Similar to those dishes found in China’s south, thin rice noodles are stirfried with bits of chicken, shrimp, green onion, bean sprouts, and egg for Hi,Yo!Silver at $7.50.
          Natalee Thai is open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m., 10101 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 310-202-7003. 998 S. Robertson Blvd., BH.310-855-9380.

    NATALEE THAI BBQ PORK – Makes 2 servings
    2 tablespoons oyster sauce
    1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
    1 teaspoon EACH sugar, minced garlic
    1/4 teaspoon white pepper
    4 stems chopped cilantro leaves, (divided)
    1/2 pound pork butt, thinly sliced dipping sauce:
    2 tablespoons lime juice
    1/4 cup fish sauce
    2 teaspoons EACH sugar, minced red onion
    1/4 teaspoon EACH roasted rice powder, cayenne pepper.

          Combine oyster sauce, soy, sugar, garlic, pepper, 3/4 of the cilantro. Add pork, marinate 30 minutes. Grill until done. Cut into smaller pieces. For dipping sauce, combine lime juice, fish sauce, remaining cilantro, sugar, onion, rice powder and cayenne.

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