High Boss

Jib “hi, bosses” all his customers. Say, “Hi, boss” back, and he'll admonish you, “No, YOU the boss.” Then, more likely than not, he'll stick a shot of Mekong rum in your face and shoot one back with you.

Thai This is a most unusual eatery, from the amusingly provocative name and the good-humored ambiance that permeates the place to the uncommon amiability of Jib (“Just Jib, boss; no last name”) and the exquisitely prepared and presented food and drink. Jib opened Thai This in 1992, and more than half of the items on the menu are his own recipes. He hasn't had any formal chef training, but I can't say I've tasted better Thai food. I eat there almost every week, and none of my guests has failed to leave less than fully delighted. The menu offers 65 luscious items, from vegetarian cuisine to a variety of meat and Thai noodle dishes, plus a host of exotic drinks that taste like nectar from the Garden of Eden and kick like they were drawn from the river Styx.

Start out with the appetizer platter jarn chim, which consists of Adam's half (baby-back ribs in a sweet-and-sour sauce), kai satay (grilled skewered chicken with peanut sauce), ka noom jeeb (a savory steamed-chicken-and-shrimp concoction), and koong sarong (non-greasy fried shrimp with a supercrisp, delicious coating). The variety of pungent flavors and textures prepares the palate for the spicy wonderfulness to come.

Next, order a “Big Boss” salad: baby squid; jumbo shrimp and scallops; jelly noodles; hard-boiled eggs; and a variety of vegetables, herbs and spices in a tangy lime/nut dressing. But beware: the portions are huge, and Big Boss is a meal in itself. And the colorful comestibles are presented with such loving care–more like gorgeous European cuisine than customary Thai fare–that you might feel guilty about digging your chopsticks into them.

Finish up with ped yang–Thai roasted duck. The crisp-skinned bird–often dry and gamy when prepared by lesser hands–is succulent, juicy and mild. It's served with a complex Oriental sauce that's impossible to resist no matter how full you are from the appetizers and salad.

I also recommend the tom yum (hot-and-sour soup), kai yang (Thai barbecue chicken) and keaw whan (coconut-curry shrimp with vegetables). There's a huge variety of other meat, fish, fowl and veggie entrees I haven't tried yet–but I will. Give me time.

After your meal, it is compulsory that you visit the bar and partake of Mekong rum from Thailand, either straight up in a shooter or blended into one of the many fruity, exotic mixed drinks that Thai This is also noted for. Jib claims to be the sole Southern California importer of this smooth, mellow rum.

The bar is reliably filled with happy, friendly people who in short order introduce themselves and tell off-color jokes, so prepare to be in good social humor. If you're cranky, Jib will quickly transform your mood; I've seen him treat the whole house to a round of Mekong and toast with his patented “One meter up; one meter down!” battle cry.

The restaurant is interestingly decorated with fountains, antiques, and portraits of historical and religious figures from Thailand. Dress is casual, prices are very reasonable, and a good time is guaranteed.

Bye, boss!

Thai This, located at 24501-B Del Prado, Dana Point, is open daily, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. (949) 240-7944. Dinner for two, $30, food only. Full bar. AmEx, MC, Visa accepted.

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