POTSDAM — It's been nearly a half year since Thai Cuisine Restaurant opened in Potsdam. I stopped by for lunch the first week they were open and found the food to be generally good but the service slow and a bit unorganized.
But what restaurant doesn't have some problems when they first open their doors? Back in July they were overrun with curious customers anxious to be the first to sample what the only Thai restaurant between Watertown and Plattsburgh had to offer.
So we decided to return, this time for dinner. Throngs of customers are no longer lined up waiting for tables, but there was a comfortable crowd when we arrived on a weekday night around 7.
The extensive menu contains more than 75 items: appetizers, soups, Thai salads, noodle dishes, curry dishes, duck entrées, "chef recommendations," specialties from the sea and main courses in lunch- or dinner-sized portions.
We definitely wanted to try the dinner specialties, but started with a potpourri of appetizers, soup and a salad.
The appetizer sampler ($14.95) seemed the way to go — perfect for sharing. It consisted of two each of chicken satay, beef satay, shrimp rolls, crab Rangoon, Thai spring rolls and dumplings.
Satays, thinly pounded meat on a stick, were good. The chicken was particularly interesting, marinated in coconut milk and lightly dusted with curry powder — subtle, not overstated.
Shrimp rolls consisted of a whole shrimp (not ground up) lightly battered and deep-fried. Lots of shrimp flavor here.
Smallish Thai spring rolls were underwhelming — more fried layers than filling. The menu said there was cabbage, carrots, celery and clear noodles inside, but you couldn't tell.
There was a better balance of filling to pastry with the crab Rangoon, real crabmeat with cream cheese wrapped in crispy wonton skins. It was a little on the sweet side, due to the crabmeat. Nice.
Dumplings were pan-fried ground pork, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and bok choy wrapped in dough. While you couldn't specifically identify the shoots or water chestnuts, all the ingredients contributed to the overall flavor, which was good.
A few chicken wings made it to the plate. They were nothing special.
The platter was completed with sweet and sour sauce as well as peanut sauce, nicely presented with colorful chopped lettuce and finely julienned carrot.
We gave curry puffs ($4.95) a try: potatoes, onions, chicken and curry powder. The consistency was a little weird — a little mushy, like mashed potatoes quickly deep-fried. It was hard to find the chicken, but the curry flavor was just right. They were a little puffier and more memorable when they arrived at the table, but quickly deflated as they sat.
Tom kha (coconut soup, $3.95) was outstanding, a coconut milk-based soup with chunked mushrooms and fresh tofu, lightly spiced with lemongrass, gingery galanga and lime juice. Silky and savory. Tantalizing flavors. You couldn't have just one spoonful. In fact, we were thinking of asking for a straw to finish it up.
Sam tum (papaya salad, $8.95) is not always available, but it was the night we were there, and it was fantastic — very fresh and crunchy. The shredded green papaya had the texture and crunch of finely chopped cabbage. Julienned carrot added color and more texture. Peanuts added to the mouth feel. Tomatoes left a little to be desired, but hey, it's November in the north country. Lime dressing was perfect, a little tart and a bit sweet with a nice burn — light and delicious.
A visit to a Thai restaurant wouldn't be complete without ordering a curry dish. It was a difficult choice with seven available, but we chose the Thai green curry ($8.85), a medium-hot dish with tofu (our call), string beans, bamboo shoots, fresh basil, red and green peppers, peas, carrots and coconut milk. We asked if broccoli could be added, and our waitress happily accommodated our request.
The vegetables were crisp — cooked just right. The brown rice that accompanied was chewy and delicious. A great dish to get all of your veggies and some good fiber and carbs. It was nice and hot, evidenced by people around the table reaching for their water glasses which, by the way, were constantly refilled.
Volcano chicken ($10.95) reminded us of sweet and sour chicken that you'd find at a Chinese restaurant. Quite a bit of batter surrounded bite-sized chunks of chicken, but rather than a gloppy sauce, a pleasant and tasty chili sauce was drizzled over the chicken. As the sauce mellowed and permeated the chicken, it turned into something quite good, all served over a bed of nicely sautéed vegetables.
Seafood lemongrass ($13.95) was a stir-fry consisting of shrimp, scallops and squid along with onions, mushrooms, lemongrass and bell peppers. The sauce, with the sliced lemongrass and its distinctive sour-lemon flavor, was quite tantalizing.
Five duck entrées are available. We chose the ginger crispy duck ($16.95). While the sauce was just OK (it could have used more fresh ginger for our liking), the non-crispy duck was disappointing. We assume it had been roasted sometime earlier and just added to the dish at the end along with the mushrooms, onions and the sauce. Unfortunately, it was stringy and dried out and just plain not very good.
Without asking if we wanted coffee or dessert, our server delivered the bill.
We inquired about dessert, only to find out the only choice available was sweet sticky rice withcoconut pumpkin ($4.95)What the heck, give it a try.
The presentation left much to be desired (it kind of looked like an over-easy fried egg plopped on a plate), but that didn't stop us from having second and third bites. The outside edges of the rice were dried and crunchy and got softer and warmer toward the middle. The coconut was not shaved or shredded, but some kind of coconut custard, smooth and soft, offering a nice contrast to the sticky and chewy rice.
An evening for four with plenty of food and good portion sizes came to a reasonable $93 before tip.
Service was generally good; our courteous, deadpan Asian waitress knew the menu and was able to answer all of our questions. Her assistant, also an Asian woman, was unable to answer questions — and there was a considerable language barrier.
The food could have been served a little hotter, temperature-wise. A far as hot spiciness goes, we took the dishes the way the chef spiced them, although they would be happy to make adjustments to suit your taste.
The dining room became very cold as our evening drew to an end and it neared 9 o'clock, even though the restaurant was serving for another hour and a few customers were still dribbling in.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thai Cuisine Restaurant
29 Maple St.
Authentic Thai cuisine. Choose from more than 75 items including appetizers, soups, Thai salads, noodle dishes, curry dishes, duck entrées, "chef recommendations," specialties from the sea and main courses in lunch- or dinner-sized portions.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week
Tom kha (coconut soup) was outstanding. Sam tum (papaya salad) was fantastic. Seafood lemongrass was quite tantalizing. Green curry was mighty tasty with veggies cooked just right.
RATING: 3 1/2 forks