Thai Restaurant's new owners bring a new freshness

January 25, 2001|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A DOZEN years ago the Thai Restaurant was our safety eatery: Every time we ate there, the food seemed delicious, new and fresh. Then we stopped going because other Thai places were popping up around town, and they had different selections we wanted to try. And we never got back to the Thai.

Now that the restaurant is under new management, we were glad for a reason to drop back in.

Physically, at least, nothing has changed. Same layout of two big rooms facing Greenmount Avenue, the smaller one in back. Same schmaltzy but endearing "Thai" detailing over the bar. Same odd paintings of Siamese dancers and scenery.

But we could feel a new freshness, a snap of exhilaration, as soon as we tasted the food. The new owners have brought a new chef with them and together they have reworked and expanded the menu. For the better.

The soups were particularly noteworthy. Tom yum koong - shrimp, mushrooms, Thai chilies and tomatoes in a stock of chicken, lemongrass and lime - was wonderfully refreshing and rich. Treasure Island soup - a hot and sour broth with scallops and squid - was tangy and (pleasantly) peppery-hot.

Shrimp dumpling soup featured melt-in-your-mouth dumplings in a wonderful, gently flavored chicken-lemongrass stock.

Emboldened by our success with the soup, we ordered some appetizers. A worthy holdover from the original Thai Restaurant days, tod mon pla - battered and fried fish and shrimp cakes served with sweet cucumber relish - was exactly how we remembered it from years gone by. Which is good.

The Thai version of tuna salad, with loads of ginger, onion, chilies, lemongrass and lemon, was delicious but lacked the usual peanuts that add crunchiness. Vegetable tempura, from the "vegetarian corner" of the menu, turned out to be a leaden, soggy and lifeless selection of carrots, eggplants and onions.

Of our main courses, we most enjoyed the depth of flavors in yellow curried chicken, which featured a moderately hot coconut-milk-based sauce with onions, tomatoes and - curiously - pineapple.

A big scallop and shrimp salad with tomatoes and garlic, called a la pooket, made for a wonderful mix of bright, clear flavors. And a special of whole crispy rockfish with tamarind, snow peas, sweet peas and pineapple had lots of texture and a similar clarity of flavor. Unfortunately, the fish was not cooked all the way through.

For dessert, we shared a wonderful but nearly indescribably sweet, cheesy custard baked in a wedge of acorn squash. No, really, it was terrific. It summed up the best parts of the new Thai Restaurant: refreshing, and full of appealing flavors and ideas.

While there were some drawbacks at the restaurant during our meal, such as the sushi-at-the-center rockfish, and servers getting a little overwhelmed when the place got busy, the many excellent aspects of the new-old Thai Restaurant dominated throughout the evening.

Thai Restaurant

3316 Greenmount Ave.


Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Mondays-Saturday, for dinner Sundays

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers: $3.25 to $5.95; entrees $8.95 to $14.95

Food: ***

Service: **1/2

Atmosphere: **1/2

Ratings system: Outstanding ****; Good ***; Fair/uneven **; Poor *

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