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Thursday, June 26, 1997

Inspired Asian

Posted on Thu, Jun 26, 1997 at 4:00 AM

Perhaps it was Asian inspiration, or maybe the work of skilled restaurateurs. But on a busy Friday night, when the house was nearly full at Tasty Thai Cuisine, the atmosphere remained genteel and serene, orderly and focused. The neighborhood secret must be getting out: Something special is going on in the kitchen here.

The minimal interior of pale walls and bamboo furniture is a perfect foil for exploring a complex menu; flavors of the Far East come together in warm, sweet, surprising ways at Tasty Thai. Grilled, roasted and stir-fried meats merge with combinations of lemon grass, curry, chiles, cilantro, ginger and coconut milk. The results include dishes like namprik pao seafood ($10.95), an array of calamari, shrimp, mussels and scallops stir-fried with garlic, carrots, onions and bell peppers, served with roast pepper sauce. And salads, such as yum woon sen ($6.95), clear noodles, shrimp and ground pork, tossed with red onion, scallions and cilantro in a spicy dressing.

On my first visit I sampled the "Tasty combination" ($9.95), more than a dozen fried delicacies. Goon sa-rong was visually intriguing: skewered shrimp wrapped with ground pork and wonton skins, twirled with egg noodles, then deep-fried so the noodles were frozen into place -- kind of like rings around a planet. Goon ka-borg and fried wonton were dumplings stuffed with shrimp and ground pork, and both were very good. There also were simple, fried shrimp, enhanced by a mild sweet-and-sour sauce.

Cucumber salad ($1.50) was outstanding mainly because of the fine, fruity vinaigrette dressing that bathed the crisp chopped cucumbers, bright green scallions, deep red tomatoes and onions. And satay ($3.95) made a fine appetizer, with four skewers of pork strips marinated in fresh coconut milk and spices, then char-grilled and served with spicy peanut sauce.

On another visit I had gaeng kaew warn ($6.95), a thick, green curry gravy blended with chicken, peppers, tender bamboo shoots and basil leaves. Ladled over steamed white rice, it created a textured sensation on two levels: the spice intensity and the heat quotient.

Service was gracious and thoughtful. (On one rainy visit, hostesses sought out departing customers to ask if they needed umbrellas for the walk back to their cars.) Even after I left the tip on my table, I walked away with the impression that it was I who had been thanked.

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