Chi Thai combines lots of things I like into one tidy package. It does first-rate versions of the old reliable Sino-American classics, cooks up more authentic Chinese fare, has a big menu of racy Thai food, is very casual yet serves wine over its white tablecloths (including Asian-food-compatible gewurztraminers and Rieslings), and even features several vegetable and fish (not just shrimp!) preparations. And it allows individual diners to decide how daring they want to be.
For an appetizer that doesn't play it safe but probably wouldn't shock a novice, try the Coconut Shrimp Puffs (six for $7). You'll get golden brown but ungreasy dumplings fashioned out of a thick, made-here sweet pastry dough with coconut incorporated into it. Inside the fat little satchels is an oniony, loose-sausage looking mix based on chopped shrimp and displaying an edge of chili heat. They go great dipped into the sweet, hot and gingery side sauce.
Diners seeking to swim even deeper into the waters of explosive Thai flavors should try the fiery Bangkok Fish ($17). Basically built for two, it stars two huge filets of tilapia deep fried with a floury and crispy crust. On top are festive sprinkles of diced red and green peppers, anisey Thai basil and a wild, five-alarm load of jalapenos.
Beneath the fish is a king-sized bed of crunchy sauteed vegetables like: strands of cabbage, shredded snow pea pods, carrot threads, bean sprouts and even more jalapenos. Unifying the whole dish is a fruity-sweet, thick fish-sauce hit and, yes, spicy Thai basil sauce. The mix of colors, textures and intense flavors is actually exciting, and the minerally tilapia manages to stand up to its decidedly unsubtle treatment.
Bangkok Fish is not for sissies - if you ask Chi Thai to take it easy on the heat, they'll be happy to do that for you, but I recommend enjoying this wonderful entree at full flame.