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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

A Love Affair With Thai Cooking

August 04, 1994|MICHAEL KRIKORIAN

When Hansa Gunnasoot was at beauty school in Japan, she used to daydream about her mother's cooking back home in Thailand. She went on to open her own business in Bangkok, but her heart was still in the kitchen. After saving up and moving to California, she realized her dream in 1978 by opening the Dear Heart Cafe.

As one of the first Thai restaurants in Long Beach, the Dear Heart has built up a faithful clientele, many of whom manager Raungsak Sirichoke (Ron, for short) greets on a first-name basis. Diners eat in a pleasant, homey room decorated with Oriental dolls, framed posters of Thailand and silk flower arrangements.

The appetizers include tod mun pla ($6.45), a deep-fried cake of pureed fish, curry paste and green beans served with a cucumber sauce; sate ($5.75), six bamboo-stick skewers of beef, pork or chicken, barbecued and served with a peanut dipping sauce; and angel wings ($5.45), fried boneless chicken wings stuffed with so much ground pork and mushrooms that they look as if they've been working out with the Bulgarian weightlifting team.

As at most Thai restaurants, soups are an integral part of the menu. There's the popular tom kha kai ($3/$5.95), a chicken soup flavored with coconut milk, mushrooms, chiles, lemon grass, lime juice, onions and galangal , a relative of ginger. Tom yum ta-le ($7.45) is a spicy hot-and-sour soup of shrimp, scallops and squid, fragrant with lemon grass and basil.

Beef salad ($5.75) is not a salad in the familiar sense but a large mound of charbroiled beef slices mixed with a small amount of red onions, green chiles, cucumbers, cilantro and lime juice.

Two popular seafood choices are the New Zealand green-lipped mussels with black-bean sauce served in a clay pot ($8.45) and the sizzling seafood plate ($8.45) which includes shrimp, scallops and squid.

For the vegetarian, Dear Heart has a dish of sauteed Chinese broccoli, black mushrooms, Napa cabbage and asparagus spears ($6.95).

Dear Heart Cafe is at 3832 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. (310) 494-3003. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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