Thai restaurants seem to be popping up like mushrooms these days, and the newest can be found in Hampton. Gah Bua Kham, or "golden water lily," is named after the owner's grandmother, and with good reason: many of her recipes appear on the menu.
The interior is cozy without being cramped. Green walls are outfitted with colorful cloth hangings and images of Thailand, while the tables echo the theme with delicately hued cloths covered with intricately patterned runners. Although early, it was fairly busy as my husband and I came in, and remained so throughout the evening.
The servers were sparse, but amiably did their best to keep up with tables, and it wasn't long until we had our first appetizer. The yow kow ($5), also known as fresh spring rolls, were stuffed to the max. Bits of chicken, fresh lettuce, slivered cucumbers, bean sprouts, cilantro and scallions were practically bursting out of the delicate rice paper wraps, and almost too big to eat in a polite bite. The peanut chili sauce gave just the right amount of kick to offset the vibrantly fresh veggies.
Dave was also curious about the sai gock ($8.50), handmade grilled sausages served with chili sauce. I've never had a Thai sausage before, and the flavors were at once familiar and exotic in this form, with hints of lemongrass and other assertive spices mellowing into the ground meat mixture. Very different, and well done.
He also ordered one of my favorite salads, the larb gai ($6.95). Minced poached chicken was mixed with sliced green onions and carrots, toasted rice powder and plenty of cilantro and mint. Served on a bed of lettuce and cabbage, it made for a filling and full-flavored dish.
I had the pad ka pow talay ($12.95), a seafood stir fry. The shrimp, mussels and squid were exceedingly fresh-tasting and absolutely perfectly cooked. The aromatic sauce also contained green and red sweet peppers, green onions and a touch of spice from chili peppers. I asked for a medium-hot spice, and was quite pleased at the level.
As a chill seemed to have returned to the air, we requested a couple of soups to go. The next day, Dave tried the pho ($7), a hearty and healing Vietnamese beef noodle soup. The broth was intensely beefy and rich, utterly delicious with noodles, thin slices of beef and finely textured meat balls. After adding in the customary garnishes — bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, lime juice and sriracha hot sauce—it was a hot, huge and tasty bowl of steaming happiness.
I tried out the tom yum gai ($7), a classic hot and sour soup made with chicken. The well-balanced broth also had tender straw mushrooms, a punch of galangal (an intense rhizome that is similar to ginger), and the fragrant, citrusy taste of lemon grass. Topped with cilantro, kaffir leaves and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, it was invigorating and warming, perfect fodder for a chilly night.
Somsack and Khamsy Sengsavng came to the states 20 years ago, and lucky for us, the have finally decided to share their delicious, traditional recipes in their first restaurant venture.
Gah Bua Kham Food: ****Atmosphere: ***Service: ***(out of five stars)
2270 Executive Drive, Hampton
Phone: 838-0341 fax: 838-0342
Web site: www.gahbua thai.com
Price range: Appetizers, $4.50-$6.95; entrees, $7.95-$13.95; soups, $3.50-$9; salad, $6-$8.50
Hours: Closed daily 3-4:30 p.m.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
Alcohol: Beer, wine
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Payment: Cash, credit cards
Noise level: Conversational
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