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Lotus Thai

906 Market Street, East Village

"Uncle Jerry was from Baton Rouge," says David. He's at the next stool, sipping his ruby-red Zen of Zin ($5). "He'd make his own seasoning and for the holidays, send it out to our family in Texas. We used it like salt. His secret recipe, but it had cayenne, onion, garlic...we loved it. But here in 'trail mix' California, you know, there's the whole health thing, and people are maybe not so much into the heat thing. Or the salt thing. Which is good, so I've created my own."

He brings out this pot. "Seven Seasonings," it says.

"I've cut the salt, used less cayenne, but otherwise it's pretty-much like Uncle Jerry's."

This is one of those chance meetings. I was hauling down Market, headed for the Gaslamp. Noticed Lotus Thai on the corner of Ninth. Saw a Happy Hour sign outside. For me, "Thai" and "Happy Hour" is a potent combination. So I veered on to this sophisticated room with lots of Buddhas, goddesses, and a huge ancient wagon wheel between the bar and the kitchen.

I sat up to the bar and ordered an Elephant. Okay, a Chang, which means "elephant" in Thai. Beer. Five bucks. I could have had any of their draft beers for $3. Including — I see too late — Arrogant Bastard. Aargh!

Looked at the List on happy hour food, and whu..? Most of it seems Chinese, not Thai. Like, steamed vegetable dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings, steamed chicken dumplings, gyoza pot sticker (Japanese?), spring roll.

What's the deal? These are more Thai than I know? Fusion. Or just playing on confusion? What about the curries, the tom kha or tom yum soups, the lamb-style salads?

Okay. It's just happy hour. I get the taro rolls, four fried rolls of silver noodles, taro, cabbage and ground pork. All fried and nothing specially Thai that I can see. But like all the dishes, they're five bucks, so can't complain.

It's about the time that I start chomping that we get to talking.

Pretty soon - and I love this kind of serendipity you get from the simple act of sitting up to a bar — this guy David's actually singing a song. It's one he has composed himself. "Through the Blue." Beautiful, actually. He represents a Texas environmental remediation company in California, but making up songs is his Walter Mitty life.

Meanwhile I'm chomping away. Not sure, but I think I can taste the slightly sweet nuttiness of the taro, and definitely the pork and cabbage. The sweet dipping sauce is fine, and it's nice to add some of the shredded carrot. Good finger-food for munching and chatting.

But the company? Good. And I'm learning a lot. Example: David's brought out his little pot of "Seven Seasons" seasoning that he actually has mixed, up in LA. He's talking about reducing the amount of not just the salt, but also the cayenne in it for the California market.

So how come I don't see any mention of "cayenne" on the label? Only paprika.

Turns out cayenne and paprika are the same, pretty much. Both are made from peppers of the capsicum anuum family. Only in the 1920s, a guy in Hungary developed a kinder, gentler pepper. Also sweeter. They use fewer of the hot seeds, too. And that's what most folks call "paprika," ("little pepper"). Guess that's David's California version.

"So has Uncle Jerry tried your mix?" I ask.

"Not yet," says David. "Guess It's because I know the first thing he'd say is 'Needs more salt.'"

So yes, I will be back. But only for the delicious regular dishes I see coming out from the kitchen. Specially the tom kha soup I saw steaming by. But happy hour? I'll come for the elephant.

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