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3-HOUR TOUR

Newport Central Library: Read It and Reap

July 28, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County.

You won't need a dictionary to unravel the menu at Thai Touch, and since its remodeling, the restaurant looks as good as the food tastes. If you do need a dictionary, the new-from-the-ground-up Newport Beach Central Library stocks scores of them nearby. If you have even a modicum of curiosity, you can get lost at the library for hours.

4 to 5:40: The exterior resembles a high school gymnasium, or a postmodern army barracks, and the color scheme is neutral grays and tans. But it's hardly the Bauwau-haus, and anyway, libraries are meant to open up worlds within, not be architectural trophies. And this $8.2-million steel, stucco and stone facility, which has ocean views, also has one thing that many libraries don't: "Space," said clerk Karen Scott--54,000 square feet of it.

The ground floor is like a book, video and record store all rolled into one, only with everything available for checkout, plus there are used books for sale in a real bookstore. Literacy services are also available, and even if you can read, books on tape are great. It took less than three minutes to get a library card (you don't have to be a Newport Beach resident to get one); you can check out two items the first day, after that up to 25.

For research, business holdings or classics, head upstairs. I was interested in local histories, and the library stocks nearly 1,000 such volumes. I found them in a case behind glass and under lock and key where titles such as "History of Orange County, California" and "History of Newport Beach" share the shelves with "Bad Company" and "A Century of Dishonor." No wonder they're under lock and key.

Also upstairs are microfiche, microfilm and reader/printers, and CD-ROM-based computers. There are on-line catalogue computers throughout the building. You can place your own holds for books on the computers, or go into the Bulletin Board to check the most recent bestsellers. All the instructions you need are at the bottom of the screen.

Back downstairs, past the copiers, fax machine and newfangled water fountains where the water spirals nautilus-like to the drain, children sat blissfully at computer stations discovering the joys of the Multi Media Animal Encyclopedia.

"I can't find salamanders!" said Bobby Jacobs, 8.

"There it is, you just passed it!" said Cody Fuller, 8.

In fact, a zillion types of salamanders were listed on the screen. Cody explained that once an animal is selected, you can see pictures of its diet and habitat, or hear the sound it makes. Bullfrogs elicited squeals of delight from the youngsters. So, do slimy salamanders make a noise? "No, lots of salamanders don't," Cody said. " Size, that's how big it is, but let's see what it eats. Ee-yooh! Look at this spider that the red-backed salamander eats. Look what it eats, Cody!"

5:40 to 7: Perhaps if the kids had selected "humans" and then "diet," a picture of Irresistible Duck or Crazy Catfish would have appeared on the screen. At any rate, either of those dishes are just a straight shot two miles up San Miguel Drive in the Newport Hills Shopping Center.

New owners took over Thai Touch a while back and gave it just the design touch it needed. Dangling lights, a single exotic stem on every table and oversize glasses contribute to an atmosphere that is amazingly at once relaxed and slightly formal, and even somewhat sensuous. Wall collages incorporate Buddhist elements.

Innovative crossover dishes include Thai Taco ($4.50) and Thai-talian Pasta ($12.95). The appetizer sampler ($12.95 for two) includes the taco as well as Golden Nests, crunchy noodles stuffed with shrimp and pork. My wife said, "It's to die for," but try the Ambrosia Chicken Coconut Soup ($4.95) instead of chicken noodle soup next time you're feeling punk.

We resisted Irresistible Duck and, instead, ordered Pompano King ($13.95, easily serves two)--whole fish cooked crisp in a sweet chili sauce--which itself proved irresistible. The sweet rice and mango dessert ($3.95) is a must-try: The hot and sticky sweet rice with cool and refreshing mango is an inspired combination.

Two Thai beers, Singha and Amarit, are served, but Gewurztraminer also complements Thai cuisine, and one by Clos du Bois is available by the glass. The menu suggests you know your tolerance for heat and tell your server on a scale from 1 to 10.

Newport Central Library

1. Newport Beach Central Library

1000 Avocado Ave.

(714) 717-3800

Open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

2. Thai Touch

2616 San Miguel Drive

(714) 640-0123

Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner served Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.

Parking/Bus

There is ample parking in lots at both locations.

OCTA buses 1 and 89 run along Pacific Coast Highway with stops at Avocado Avenue. Bus 65 runs along San Miguel Drive and Ford Road.

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