Thai in East

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    Once upon a time, indulging in Thai cuisine was an exotic foray into the unknown, but now Thai restaurants can be found on just about every main drag in town. What's next? McThai drive-throughs with satay nuggets and curry value-meals?

    drive-throughs with satay nuggets and curry value-meals?

    Thankfully, much more originality and attention to detail are in evidence at Royal Thai, which opened in 1997, making it an early entry in the Thai trend. When we visited shortly after the restaurant opened, near the busy crossroads of Semoran Boulevard and Colonial Drive, we found some aspects of the menu and service lacking.

    Thankfully, much more originality and attention to detail are in evidence at Royal Thai, which opened in 1997, making it an early entry in the Thai trend. When we visited shortly after the restaurant opened, near the busy crossroads of Semoran Boulevard and Colonial Drive, we found some aspects of the menu and service lacking.

    But Royal Thai has only improved with age. Two recent revisits offered a delicious presentation of the prowess of chef Jintana Bant, who hails from northern Thailand. Service was more efficient, too -- we were in and out within an hour.

    But Royal Thai has only improved with age. Two recent revisits offered a delicious presentation of the prowess of chef Jintana Bant, who hails from northern Thailand. Service was more efficient, too -- we were in and out within an hour.

    The simple dish param ($8.95) was handled with such a deft touch that it caught us off guard. The traditional stew of meat (which we declined in lieu of tofu) and spinach is nothing too fancy. But then we spooned some of the light peanut sauce over the pan-seared tofu cubes and vegetables, and took a taste. The hot, spicy flavors revealed themselves quietly and successively, like the trail of glitter in the aftermath of fireworks. It was at that moment we knew we were in the hands of a pro.

    The simple dish param ($8.95) was handled with such a deft touch that it caught us off guard. The traditional stew of meat (which we declined in lieu of tofu) and spinach is nothing too fancy. But then we spooned some of the light peanut sauce over the pan-seared tofu cubes and vegetables, and took a taste. The hot, spicy flavors revealed themselves quietly and successively, like the trail of glitter in the aftermath of fireworks. It was at that moment we knew we were in the hands of a pro.

    We had a more delayed reaction to the formidable "Thai beef stew" ($8.95), which is prepared in a red curry paste, backed up by a chorus of onions, peanuts and potatoes. Halfway into it, we realized we had crossed into extremely hot territory. We set this dish aside to be later enjoyed a few bites at a time and moved on to the next delight.

    We had a more delayed reaction to the formidable "Thai beef stew" ($8.95), which is prepared in a red curry paste, backed up by a chorus of onions, peanuts and potatoes. Halfway into it, we realized we had crossed into extremely hot territory. We set this dish aside to be later enjoyed a few bites at a time and moved on to the next delight.

    The "golden squid" ($5.95) was a refreshing antidote; these were jumbo rings of tender, chewy meat flash-fried into golden fritters. Left alone, they were fine, but when the appetizers were lightly whisked into a dish of chili-plum sauce -- as light and sweet as a glass of wine -- the taste was much more intriguing.

    The "golden squid" ($5.95) was a refreshing antidote; these were jumbo rings of tender, chewy meat flash-fried into golden fritters. Left alone, they were fine, but when the appetizers were lightly whisked into a dish of chili-plum sauce -- as light and sweet as a glass of wine -- the taste was much more intriguing.

    Our only disappointment was the mee grob ($4.95), which could have used more than four shrimp. Otherwise, it was an able rendition of crispy rice noodles sautéed in a sweet-and-sour sauce, garnished with bean sprouts.

    Our only disappointment was the mee grob ($4.95), which could have used more than four shrimp. Otherwise, it was an able rendition of crispy rice noodles sautéed in a sweet-and-sour sauce, garnished with bean sprouts.

    On two visits, we never saw more than a dozen customers in the dining area, which resembles a cool, dimly lit garden cottage. But they do a busy takeout business here. If Royal Thai is still uncharted territory, be assured that two years after opening, it is a worthy destination for sophisticated Thai classics.

    After driving around the massive and intensely confusing Waterford Town Center for 15 minutes (I was the one muttering "This place is insane" repeatedly), I finally found the little storefront restaurant called Thai Singha. If you're facing the entrance to the center from the road, go as far left as you can to find it. I'm emphasizing the location because you will want to make the trip down the Alafaya Trail and sample these Siamese splendors.

    Somboon Pornmukda owns Thai Singha, along with her husband, Chef Manoch. "We had four restaurants in Philadelphia," she said, "starting -- how old is my daughter? -- 13 years ago." Their travels from Thailand to Orlando, by way of Mexico, Europe and the City of Brotherly Love, influences the menu in delightful ways.

    Somboon Pornmukda owns Thai Singha, along with her husband, Chef Manoch. "We had four restaurants in Philadelphia," she said, "starting -- how old is my daughter? -- 13 years ago." Their travels from Thailand to Orlando, by way of Mexico, Europe and the City of Brotherly Love, influences the menu in delightful ways.

    "Thai people create new dishes," Somboon said, citing as example the rack of lamb ($16.95), grilled with shiitake mushrooms and a French-inspired sauce of green peppercorns, cognac and red curry. I don't think venison is indigenous to Thailand, yet here it appears as sumptuous slices sautéed with sweet basil, hot chili paste and mushrooms ($16.95) for an intriguing combination of dark and hot tastes.

    "Thai people create new dishes," Somboon said, citing as example the rack of lamb ($16.95), grilled with shiitake mushrooms and a French-inspired sauce of green peppercorns, cognac and red curry. I don't think venison is indigenous to Thailand, yet here it appears as sumptuous slices sautéed with sweet basil, hot chili paste and mushrooms ($16.95) for an intriguing combination of dark and hot tastes.

    Ever adaptive, Thai Singha takes a Florida note by cooking an alligator curry with eggplant ($16.95). The gator was already sold out when I visited, but my second choice, "triple flavor duck," ($13.95) was a hit, an enormous serving of crisp-skinned duck in a sweet and mellow chili-garlic-tamarind sauce. Dishes come in five degrees of heat, and even my "level 3" peeled a layer from my tongue, and I mean that in a good way.

    Ever adaptive, Thai Singha takes a Florida note by cooking an alligator curry with eggplant ($16.95). The gator was already sold out when I visited, but my second choice, "triple flavor duck," ($13.95) was a hit, an enormous serving of crisp-skinned duck in a sweet and mellow chili-garlic-tamarind sauce. Dishes come in five degrees of heat, and even my "level 3" peeled a layer from my tongue, and I mean that in a good way.

    The seafood is lovely. The simple lemon grass and shrimp soup ($3.50) has layers of flavors coming from firm shrimp, sharp lime leaves and barely cooked mushrooms -- so much so that time is needed to savor them all.

    The seafood is lovely. The simple lemon grass and shrimp soup ($3.50) has layers of flavors coming from firm shrimp, sharp lime leaves and barely cooked mushrooms -- so much so that time is needed to savor them all.

    A meal can be made from the steamed mussel appetizer ($6.95), such is the size of the serving and the deep fish and herb flavor of the broth ($6.95). The soft-shell crab special (from frozen crab when it's out of season, but fresh during the summer) merged savory crustacean with angel-hair pasta in a velvety red curry sauce and green peppers.

    A meal can be made from the steamed mussel appetizer ($6.95), such is the size of the serving and the deep fish and herb flavor of the broth ($6.95). The soft-shell crab special (from frozen crab when it's out of season, but fresh during the summer) merged savory crustacean with angel-hair pasta in a velvety red curry sauce and green peppers.

    For a small place, they take big strides for excellence. Somboon told me that the familiar pad Thai noodle dish is typically made to order, a chef throwing fish sauce, sugar and spices on as the sauce. Here, the sauce is simmered for days, for a taste so complex and intense that it's like discovering the dish all over again ($9.95).

    For a small place, they take big strides for excellence. Somboon told me that the familiar pad Thai noodle dish is typically made to order, a chef throwing fish sauce, sugar and spices on as the sauce. Here, the sauce is simmered for days, for a taste so complex and intense that it's like discovering the dish all over again ($9.95).

    With simple surroundings and great ambitions, Thai Singha is a cozy family-run restaurant, a place that, if you're lucky enough to live close, should become a habit.

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