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Thai you can count on, with steak and chicken for Uncle Mike
(617) 536-6386
1721 Washington Street, Boston
Open Mon–Thu, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri–Sat, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; and Sun, noon–10 p.m.
AE, Di, MC, Vi
Full bar
No valet parking
Sidewalk-level access

Equator is the larger, prettier child of the owners of Thai Village, an excellent Thai restaurant. The new location adds American- and Asian-fusion food, and that’s where we focused. Readers should know, therefore, that they can always count on good Thai food in handsome surroundings at Equator. This review is a kind of appendix for when you must have something Thai, but Uncle Mike from Iowa City eats only steak and chicken. (An additional feature of these two restaurants is that the owner is a true hero: Somchai Sriweawnetr, who was working in Iran during the revolution, hid and fed a group of Americans during the hostage crisis.)

Sriweawnetr’s new restaurant is certainly an inviting hangout, if not a good hideout — tall windows to the street would give us away. Still, I could spend a few months here. Chairs are comfortable, and the room is a medley of gold and wood tones, with teak tables, bamboo wainscoting, slate-look quarry tiles, lots of wooden Buddhas, maroon paint, some wicker chairs, and lamps with beautiful red dragonflies.

Appetizers include excellent Thai spring rolls ($6.95), the tightly rolled, cigar-caliber kind that are all crunch outside and a little bouncy inside, with a traditional "squid sauce" dip of sweet-and-sour with red-pepper flakes. Seaweed salad ($5.95) glows as emerald-jade as in any Japanese restaurant, and is as nicely flavored with soy sauce and sesame. Crab shumai ($6.95) are a little tastier than their Japanese-restaurant counterparts. You can order them steamed or fried; we had steamed. They are the shape and size of scallops, but with a crab flavor and a thin wrapping.

Papaya salad ($8.95) is echte Thai, of course. This one isn’t as fiery as some, but has plenty of lime-fish sauce to savor, a little bite, and a variety of textures from lettuces, the shredded under-ripe papaya, thin-sliced green beans, and a little shrimp and chicken. Grape tomatoes are a wonderful addition to this salad. Soft-shell crab ($8.95) is beautifully fried, which is most of the battle with this bland seafood, a quality emphasized by delicate rings of fried taro and a hottish mayonnaise dip.

Our favorite entrée was the one most Thai, tamarind duck ($18.95). Here a filleted duck breast is lightly breaded and fried, sliced into rounds, and served with a sweet-sour tamarind sauce full of diced onions and red and green peppers. Nothing fusion about the rice, either, since Thai jasmine rice is the most aromatic white rice around.

A special on "steak porterhouse" ($29.95) gave us a chance to scout both the sirloin ($20.95) and the filet mignon ($22.95) for Uncle Mike. A proper porterhouse is a T-bone with lots of both, and the trick is not to overcook one side or undercook the other. In this case, it was ordered medium and came medium-well. However, it was seasoned well enough that both sides were delicious, although this blurs the difference between the beefier-chewier sirloin side, and the more-tender, somewhat-blander mignon side. Rarer steaks will work better, since part of the equation is a thinner cut than many restaurants use (and a nicer price as a result). Uncle Mike will also like his soft baked potato (I like them drier and fluffier, as when they are not wrapped in foil, myself). This also came with very good sautéed vegetables: carrot, squash, broccoli. The vegetables are like the stir-fried vegetables at Jae’s, only more done.

Speaking of Jae’s, if a Korean restaurateur can serve pad Thai, why can’t a Thai restaurateur serve bulgoki? Based on my beef bulgoki ($15.95), there may be a reason. The beef was shredded as though for sukiyaki, and stir-fried in a not-quite-there Korean soy-ginger sauce. If you pay attention to rice, though, almost-bulgoki on Thai rice is almost as good as real bulgoki on Korean rice. (Especially if you cheat with some spare tamarind duck sauce on the rice and bulgoki.)

Another special on salmon ($19.95) showed off some cheffery, as it consisted of both an excellent chunk of grilled fillet and two slices of a round salmon loaf wrapped in salmon skin. The garnish was mashed sweet potato, almost unseasoned, and some crisp-fried carrot shreds. There were also three sauces ($3), butter-based purées of spinach, onion, and red bell pepper. This was lots of fun to eat, and to contrast with the wine.

Equator has wines, and while no wine goes with the intense flavors of Thai food, some of these worked well with fusion dishes. Renwood zinfandel ($7.95/glass) had the soft body of house merlot, but with real fruit and spice flavors. La Villa pinot grigio ($6.95) was clean, but the flavor was short. Both wines were served in small glasses, a handicap. Water has a lemon slice and a lemon flavor. Coffee and decaf were quite good on a slow early evening. For some reason there is no tea, perhaps because there are no Thai desserts, either.

Desserts are fried ice cream ($4.95), crème brûlée ($5.95), and New York cheesecake ($4.95). None was unusual, but all were good examples of their kind, although the nod goes to the crème brûlée. The strawberry sauce from the cheesecake was the best part of the fried ice cream (a baseball-size object), which lost points for bland ice cream.

Atmosphere is darkish and encouraging. The background music is George Winston–like piano noodling, with some standard songs.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com.

Issue Date: October 1 - 10, 2004
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