Try Bai Cha Thai, right in the heart of Hampton

By Rachel Forrest

Hampton Union [SPOTLIGHT], September 23, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Lucky, lucky hamlet of Hampton. You got Bai Cha Thai right in the heart of your downtown. The food is fresh and tasty, when they say it's going to be hot, it is.

And there are many dishes to choose from covering all you could want, including a list of 12 noodle bowls, among them Pho, duck noodles, yen-ta-pho and Boat tip — beef, sprouts, scallions, cilantro and delicious broth.

Start with sharing one or more of the many appetizers like the Summer Rolls, two large rice noodle skin covered gems bursting with large shrimp, noodles, crisp lettuce, basil and carrot served with a spicy sauce for dipping, all so refreshing ($6.95). Tom Kha soup with chicken or shrimp is so creamy with just a hint of galangal for that mild ginger-like flavor and lime juice for contrast. ($4.50).

There are salads I haven't seen before on a Thai menu around here like a shredded apple salad mixed with chicken, lime juice and onions, then topped with roasted coconut and cashews ($7.95). Thai pancakes are delicate crepes of rice batter, pan-fried to just crisp and stuffed with chives in a ginger-soy sauce ($6.95). The crunchy coconut crepe is great too with broccoli, carrots, snow peas and mushrooms then chicken and shrimp ($10.95).

There's so much to choose from here, it's a dilemma. The curry dishes are here in green, red, yellow, and even Randang with more of an Indonesian style with plenty of ginger and turmeric as well as chicken mango curry. Put in any meat or seafood you like. I opted for roasted duck curry with coconut milk, pineapple, cherry tomatoes and peppers with plenty of fresh basil and red curry ($14.95 at dinner). Unlike many Thai spots, the duck is pure breast meat, perfectly cooked, moist and tender. The pineapple adds sweet to counter the heat.

Fried rice dishes are here too — with seafood, mango, chicken, egg — so many combinations and there is a long list of pan-fried noodles. I tried my benchmark Pad Thai and it's light and chock full of large shrimp, chicken and egg with the usual ground peanuts, not at all greasy and nicely spiced ($10.95 at dinner). There are many more to choose from in variations I haven't seen around here before like Rad Na with a dark gravy and Chinese broccoli with chicken and shrimp.

Grapow is a common rustic Thai dish, ground or finely sliced beef or chicken with string beans, chili and peppers. I tried the beef and while too salty, it was still very tasty, especially when I opted to put a fried egg on it ($12.95 at dinner).

The menu is also terrific for vegetarians and those who love seafood. Try scallops garlic with shiitake mushrooms or steamed ginger fish for light, healthy and tasty dishes and the vegetarian selection includes an eggplant basil dish with deep fried eggplant, tofu peppers and mushrooms in a brown sauce that was terrifically spicy in a good way. Volcano shrimp is tossed in a lightly sweet tamarind sauce with jumbo shrimp, garlic and chili with broccoli and cauliflower served on a hotplate. And don't forget that Pho.

The place looks nice too. It's large and the decor is tasteful with light music in the background as well as a little lounge area to sit at. They do have wine and beer as well. With so many dishes to choose from, made with bright, fresh ingredients and wonderful traditional Thai spices and herbs you can dine here just about forever and not get bored. Or unhealthy.