It wasn't exactly an average night at Papazee's. We knew that right away when we saw the balloons and the frolicking children, neither of which are frequently spotted at Thai restaurants. Ditto a laid-back, all-American maitre d' in a Redskins sweat shirt.
When we discovered that the occasion for all the hilarity was a birthday party for the chef, we wondered if we should stick
around. Yes, the restaurant was open for business, and there were a few non-partiers on the premises. But if the chef was whooping it up opening presents, who would cook our dinners?
We did stick around, and we were glad we did. The second-in-command in the kitchen did a commendable job, and the presence of so many joyful party-goers (including, our waitress said, a number of regular customers) indicated the high esteem in which this Annapolis restaurant is held.
Although the service people's attire was casual, the dining room decor is dressy: Pink walls and deeper pink napery, ceremonial headdresses, delicate portraits of Thai beauties in traditional dress, and a profusion of plants set a scene that is (in the absence of boisterous birthday parties, anyway) serene and feminine. Prices are a bit higher than those in Baltimore's Thai spots, but if it's prepared at all adequately, Thai food always seems like a bargain.
While it doesn't necessarily offer anything our local favorites can't, if you're in Anne Arundel County and crave Thai, Papazee's (the nickname of one of the Thai women owners) delivers the goods. Only one of our dishes failed to delight; the yum salad with squid ($5.95), which can be devilishly good at its best, suffered from rubber-textured seafood and tasted mostly of lettuce. However, the tod man ($5.95) was the best version of this dish I have tasted. It is usually described as fried fish cakes, a misleading appellation, as it doesn't hint of the lively ginger-citrus flavor, or the lack of heavy, oily breading.
The classic noodle dish pad Thai ($9.25), a good litmus test for any Thai restaurant, was respectably handled here; it featured more shrimp than usual, and a well-balanced mixture of complementary tastes, including peanut, cilantro, scallion and a hint of sweetness.
Chicken with basil leaves ($8.95) had a one-dimensional flavor, at least for Thai food, which is often mysteriously complex. But it was an interesting dimension. The fresh, wilted basil lent the diced chicken an unusual savory taste that resembled licorice.
All those admonitions about blue food go out the window when the subject is Thai desserts. The coconut custard was indeed blue -- actually a sort of gray-violet -- but was delicious, light but intensely flavored.
Papazee's Thai Cuisine
Where: 257 West St., Annapolis
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays to Sundays
Credit Cards: MC, V
Features: Thai dishes
Non-smoking section? Yes
Call: (410) 263-8424