Nice Pad Thai
Given the food's traditionally sharp flavors and vivid presentation, it's understandable
that Thai cuisine is so often served in restaurants notable for their angular interiors
and radiant color schees. is it possible for a new Thai restaurant to be drab? I'm
starting to think not—at least not without lime and lemongrass losing their peircing
potency.

Take Thaiphoon. If it were, say, a new Mexican restaurant, I'd be writing about how
it's interior design was helping usher in a new era of local taco-chic. Instead I can only
say that Thaiphoon is just as dazzling as you'd expect a Thai place to be—maybe
even a touch conservative.

Thaiphoon tycoon Woody Tongrugs used to own Jandara, the minichain in which the
dining rooms feel like wizards' lairs. So he knows the drill. The chairs are slim and
high-backed, tucked into tables that look as if they were made of scrap metal
salvaged from a robot factory. Booths along the back wall nestle into private alcoves
of bright green, peach, and yellow. The slight visual respite offered by sitting in the
front room, which is all wood-paneled, like an old New England seafood joint, ends
when the drinks arrive. Even the club sodas here come in bulbous stemmed cocktail
glasses, each with a lime and matching green straw.

"It's a lot like every other Thai restaurant with shiny lacquered tables," is the
assessment of a friend we run into at the end of a meal one evening. And in the
sense that nothing at Thaiphoon really carries the shockof the new, she's right.

Yet it's hard not to believe that the
familiarity may be one of Thaiphoon's most bankable assets. The wayward critic isn't
the only familiar face we see during dinner; there are also the friends in a foursome to
our left, three of whom order pad thai. The bar is routinely clogged with people
waiting for tables to free up, even on Monday nights.

Thaiphoon's menu is pitched slightly towad mainstream tastes. Larb gai, for instance,
is listed as "chicken ginger salad," although the translation hardly has the effect of
dumbing down the actual dish. The appetizer's probably my favorite. Thai treat, and
it's been ages since I've had it rendered so perfectly, the minced chicken seemingly
steamed to order and sharpened with lime vinaigrette and fresh strips of ginger and
onion. The honey-roasted-duck is less successful.

The saving grace of Thaiphoon's misfires is that they're partially redeemed by
presentation with simple garnishes that actually begged to be eaten. It's hard to find
restarants at the under-$10-an-entree level that use salad-ready produce to dress up
their plates. The muddy tan of my shrimp sausage suggests a long stay under a
heating lamp, but anyone who's suffered through countless beds of wilty brown
lettuce would appreciate the faultless tuft of greens standing upright at the center of
the plate, a long unbroken thread of shaved carrot wraped around the leaves like a
vine. Fish cakes, on the other hand, are through-and-through divine—golden brown
and oil glistened , with a bright side of sweet cucumber-peanut relish.

But often, the dishes hit so many right notes that you'll leave wanting to return with a
plan to order the exact same thing. Crispy whole flounder , draped in a blanket of
subtle black-bean sauce, is worth another visit, as is the green curry, which, with
either beef, chicken or shrimp, is lusciously milky and just spicy enough. A well-turned
curry special one night involves marinated shrimp grilled and set under a layer of
round chicken. And Thaiphoon's mango and sticky rice, the classic Thai dessert, is
dead-on, the juicy sliced fruit blending seamlessly into the dining room's color
scheme, the rice scented with coconut milk in a way that makes the whole thing taste
vaguely of vanilla.

The best entree on the menu arrives almost too pretty to touch: crisply fried rounds of
eggplant overlapping on a long narrow plate, moistened with a light garlic sauce and
finished with bright slices of chili pepper, basil leaves, sauteed nubs of green and red
bell peppers, and tons of minced garlic. The flavors are all mighty, but each ingredient
seems to assert itself and then quickly pull back. Fascinated, the guy at the tablenext
to me just has to ask: "What is that?"
—Brett Anderson
Photos and web site:
IMAGES BY AMIR <enter>