If you're a downtown Mai Thai regular, you'll feel at home at Baan Thai in Eagle. Bulbous hanging lanterns cast a low, soft glow on sturdy dark wood tables and a long, trickling water feature bisects the upscale restaurant. Though Baan Thai in fact occupies the former Mai Thai Eagle building--Mai Thai silent partner Shannon Robnett bought the space in 2010--a number of things have changed.
Robnett painted over Mai Thai's light-sucking deep maroon walls and adorned them with colorfully surreal local art. The menu has also lightened up--portion sizes are slimmed down and prices have dropped to match. Most lunch items at Baan Thai--like the potato- and peanut-studded massaman curry and the cashew chicken in hot chili oil paste--hover in the $6.95 range, while the majority of dishes on the dinner menu--like the pad se-ew noodles in oyster sauce and the duck noodles with roasted duck and baby bok choy--run $9.95.
But where Mai Thai is known for its eccentric, vegetarian-friendly Thai fusion menu, Baan Thai keeps it classic. A collection of rich soups and fried rice dishes rub up against fragrant curries and noodle stir-fries. Decadent coconut milk, Thai basil and sweet and sour sauce dominate a menu concocted by a native Thai chef.
On a recent weekday evening, I passed a couple of chatting families lingering over wine and pulled up a chair by a large window bathed in a yellow glow from the patio's twinkling Christmas lights. One dish immediately stole my attention--the Fish on Fire ($19.95): deep-fried halibut fillets and slivered bell peppers smothered in a spicy, coconut red curry sauce, all set on fire. Hell yes.
While the dish was delightful, the presentation wasn't quite as badass as I'd imagined. My server slid the moderate-sized plate down next to my sword-heavy cutlery, threw a few shakes of Bacardi 151 around the rim and flicked her lighter a few times. It felt a bit like blowing out a fishy birthday stew. As I scooped up bites of the crunchy halibut and white rice, I couldn't help but think anything with that kind of fat content--deep-fried and ladled with coconut milk--has an unfair deliciousness advantage.
The next time I'm passing through Eagle with a hankering for Thai food, I'll definitely swing back into Baan Thai. But I'll forgo the flambe for something classic ... and much cheaper.