Ever since the closing of Siam Bangkok the search for a successor has been, if not tireless, at least intermittently active. There’s much good to say about elements of many places — some of the more exotic, yet subtle dishes at Sawasdee rank high, for example, as do the beautifully presented lunches (and, of course, dinners) at Thai Dee. But a recent return to Thai Spice after a long hiatus suggests that it may be in line for the Queen of Siam’s throne. If a place can perform with aplomb at lunch (and allow you to also order from the dinner menu), then hope springs eternal.
The Thai spring rolls are a bust, at least at lunch, but the automatic soup, generously endowed with rough dumplings of ground chicken, is unusually good — especially if you sneak in a little of the chili-spiked fish sauce when the spunky waitresses, all clad in traditional garb, aren’t looking. And I am happy to report that the fish cakes, often mistaken for silicone slabs, are way less than rubbery. Laced with red curry paste and lemon grass, and served with an addictive dipping sauce chock full of cucumber and crushed peanut, they are worth your attention.
Now, it’s also true that I have a thing for curries with potato, whether Indian or Thai, so feel free to apply any handicap that seems appropriate. However, I’d ratchet up the heat level of the yellow curry in coconut milk (and I’d complain if the kitchen forgets the advertised crushed peanuts). Potatoes are a given, and in the selected pork version (beef, chicken, and tofu are also possibilities) the flavors were warm and round, the texture creamy and silky.
Think of this as tough love, but I’d also try to make sure that the dry bits of crispy five-spice duck were banished from the Panang curry; otherwise, the subtly-spiced duck and the complex, rusty-hued curry are a potent pair, and the copious slivers of lemon grass only serve to lighten the blend. For an entirely different kind of experience, try the traditional phat thai wrapped in a fried egg sheet, # 92 on the specialty-items column. That’s all I’m saying.
Don’t start doubting my earlier assessment of ascension just because I’m now going to mention that the sticky rice desserts (there are four of them with different toppings) are truly sticky. And a little chewy. They always are. But the coconut custard is very good and altogether unique. Whatever your selection, don’t dither; this place is a matriarchy, and you know how moms and aunties get. — Ron Bechtol