Swept up by Typhoon! ; Thai restaurant deserves the punctuation


# # # Typhoon! 1185 Bella Bottega Center (8936 161st Ave. N.E.), Redmond ($$)

Reservations: 425-558-7666 Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-3 p.m. Saturday; dinner: 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday Prices: Lunch: $5.95-$9.95; dinner, starters: $4.95-$11.95, entrees: $8.95-$19.95 Full liquor license (pending) All major credit cards No obstacles to access No smoking Parking: Bella Bottega Center lot -------------------------

When Wild Ginger moves out of its Western Avenue digs and into its slow-to-go new home at Third and Union, Typhoon! - a Portland export - will move in. But you don't have to wait until July to treat yourself to what may well be the best Thai food you've ever eaten. Typhoon! already has a local branch, in Redmond's Bella Bottega Center.

Dine here and you'll find out why the fourth Typhoon! is certain to fit the Wild Ginger space as gracefully as Cinderella's foot fit that glass slipper. And, more to the (exclamation) point, you'll come to know why Typhoon! in Redmond deserves its punctuation.

Thai food that's not dumbed-down for American palates! One hundred and fifty teas! Soothing decor and sound levels to match! In a shopping center, no less!

Eastside, Westside, all around the town, Thai joints, with their short-sighted riffs on chicken/beef/shrimp/pork with coconut/curry/peanut sauces, have become the modern-day equivalent of the latter-day chop suey house: boring bastions of once-exotic flavors.

But Typhoon's chef/owner, Bo Lohasawat Kline - a woman who uses cilantro with uncommon restraint - never muddles or forces out-of-balance the holy quartet of her native cuisine: salt, sweet, sour and heat. Her recipes are culled from a repertoire that relies as much on familiar street foods (satays, phad Thai) as on specialties fit for Thai royalty. With help from a crew from Bangkok, who skillfully execute her menu in their vast open kitchen, Kline has brought back Thai-food excitement.

Some must-haves

Case in point: Papaya salad ($7.95). Undulating with flavor, slivers of crunchy green papaya unite with a paper-thin dice of rind-intact lime that imparts both bite and fragrance. Those citrusy bursts are also part of a showy palette of ingredients in miang kum. The menu explains that this plate of little tastes (dried shrimp, ginger root, toasted coconut, shallots, peanuts and fresh chilies meant for bundling in spinach leaf "cups") is rarely seen in America. But savvy Thai-food fans will recognize this as the must-have starter made famous at the Fremont Noodle House. You must have it here, too.

Fried-food fanatics could opt for the Nibbles Platter ($11.95), finger food whose finest component is a clean, crisp, vegetarian spring roll. But you'd do even better getting your deep-fry quota courtesy of a moist halibut fillet ($14.95), scored, breaded and fried until it resembles a pine cone. Its moniker, "Three-Flavor Fish," nods to the sauce - a sticky symphony of sweet, sour and fire.

The heat is on

Rather than resorting to a customer-calls-it, heat-denoting "star"-system, Typhoon's menu offers its own heat-content ratings. Order accordingly. Braving the three-star Superwild Shrimp, whose bright marinade manages to shine through an onslaught of fresh chilies, will have you crying out for a beer. For now, at least, you'll have to brave on without; the restaurant's liquor license is still in legal limbo. All the more reason to turn to the astonishing list of teas, which reads like a well-composed wine list and ranges in price from $2 to $52 per pot.

A big bowl of jasmine rice helps do justice to a red curry sauce that sets off minor sparks balanced by the sweet addition of grapes and pineapple in a wonderful Royal Duck Curry ($14.95). Wonton wrappers swaddle shrimp and scallops in a mild, green curry Roma, which lived up to its billing, "Looks like ravioli, tastes like heaven."

Classic Thai dishes, such as tom kah gai (chicken coconut soup) and yum nuea (beef salad) get first-class treatment here. As does everyone's favorite, phad Thai, which practically flies out of the kitchen at lunch, when tech-heads gather to take a meeting while they're eating. Why not branch out with something different? Say, lahd nah - ribbons of wide rice noodles fried with egg, graced with mushrooms and vegetables and soaking up the lightest of ginger-stoked gravies. Or the General's Noodles, entangling chicken and shrimp, crunchy with peanuts and punched up with lime.

Sweet may cut it when it comes to dipping sauce, but it's not enough in regard to service. Attention waitstaff! Divvy the room into sections, then take one and tend it. That way customers won't have to tell three successive servers, "No, we're not ready to order yet." Keep the water glasses filled. If you're walking past the kitchen and see completed orders languishing, there's your chance to help your pals.

Nancy Leson's phone number is 206-464-8838. Her e-mail is nleson@seattletimes.com