In the space once occupied by New Asia Restaurant stands the Taste of Thai. It caught my attention last fall with its "Grand Opening Banner" and pronouncement as "Best Thai Restaurant." Nothing like "best of" to pique a critic's appetite!
The wall of intricately carved Chinese landscapes has been removed. Wood paneling replaces New Asia's artistry and a pantheon of gods and goddesses now occupy shadow boxes guarding the dining room.
The space has been divided into two dining rooms. The smaller one we dubbed "the royal room" as its walls are hung with photographs of the King of Thailand and the royal family.
The gods and spirits that occupy the Thai world are honored here. A spirit house with sand pots that once bore incense sticks welcomes you over the threshold. The Thai custom is to walk over a threshold, not on it. An altar bearing a beautiful carved melon, an orchid and glowing candles are offered to the gods for prosperity, happiness and pleasure.
Comfortable booths covered in blue and brown print fabric, along with satin tablecloth-covered dining tables, lend an air of formality to the space. In the world of strip-mall Asian restaurants, Formica usually trumps linens, so Taste of Thai's table treatments gather notice.
The ubiquitous aquarium bubbles away, occupied with carp, not a showcase for live seafood for the meal ahead.
Its annotated Thai menu is much appreciated.
Most dishes are designed for you to select a preferred protein: chicken, beef, pork or tofu. Shrimp incurs an up-charge ($2). Quality ingredients are used in the preparation of the dishes. The vegetables are fresh, the herbs are lively and the Thai bird chilies provide a real kick of heat.
Egg rolls ($4.95) are meatless, satays ($6.95) are tender and served as is tradition with peanut sauce and cucumber salad (which would be a relish in Thailand).
Basil Rolls (3 for $5.95) are balanced — all the ingredients are tasted in concert with no skimping of shrimp. The house dipping sauce was a thick sweet and sour condiment of unremarkable flavors.
Ka Noom Jeeb (4 for $6.50) combine ground shrimp and chicken and surround them with a Thai dumpling skin. Their texture was a bit taut which made them "bouncy" — too much protein glue to appreciate their delicate flavor profiles.
The American fried rice ($15.95) with its pineapple, sweet sausage, chicken and spring onions has little in common with the version served in Thailand to American service men and women on "R&R" during the Vietnam War — that recipe was no more than rice covered with tomato sauce.
My guest had lived in Asia and was a frequent visitor to Thailand. Many of the street-food delicacies that she had come to love were not offered here and her over-all assessment of the food was that it was heavy, lacking the lightness that makes Thai food so refreshing.
The star of our experience was Pad Prik with Shrimp ($12.95), a bright dish of shrimp, peppers, shredded carrots, pungent Thai basil, mushrooms and green bell peppers along with fresh and dried chiles. It was as pretty to look at as it was to eat.
Green Curry ($10.95) with chicken had a delicacy about it that showed the moderation of the kitchen tempering all the ingredients for this dish. In typical Thai fashion there was the harmony of heat, sweet, sour and salty.
With both taste buds and taste memory fatigued with the classic Pad Thai noodle dish we tried Pad Kee Mow ($11.95) with flat, chewy rice noodles, wok-charred pork, garlic, onions and the spicy anise taste of Thai basil. This is a worthy winter dish; substantial, toothsome and well-spiced.
Soups were all entree-sized portions and not tasted.
The staff (all two of them) was friendly, anxious to please and willing to suggest dishes to try.
My guests would have welcomed being asked how spicy they wanted their dishes. A few dishes bear a chile on the menu indicating their scorch power.
Desserts feature warm sticky rice topped with either avocado or mango or served with a square of Thai custard. You can have fried ice cream (an oxymoron in my book of eating) or fried avocado with ice cream — a pointless combination. Should the chiles scorch your tongue, the warm sticky rice in its coconut cream "sauce" is the perfect salve.
Taste of Thailand provides a nice matrix of Thai foods served with certainty and comfort.
Taste Of Thai
Cuisine: Asian-Thai.Category: Ethnic-Neighborhood Favorite.Phone: 573-8825.Address: 874 Orleans Road, West Ashley.Food: ***Service: ***Atmosphere: **** 1/2Price: $Costs: Appetizers $4.95-$6.95, soups and salads $3.95-$9.95, entrees $8.95-$10.95, noodle and rice dishes $11.95-$14.95, house specialties $12.95-$18.95, fried rice and curries $7.95-$12.95, desserts $3.95, lunch only noodle soups and specialty salads $5.50-$14.95. Dinner menu soups, salads, entrees and specialties are priced lower at lunch.Vegetarian Options: Yes.Bar: Beer and wine license pending.Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday, noon-10:30 p.m. Saturday, noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday.Decibel Level: Quiet.Wheelchair Access: Yes.Parking: Strip mall lot.Other: Carry-out, 2 dining rooms.Web site: No.