Tongue Thai-ed

Although Americans call it Bangkok, the true name of Thailand’s capital begins with the words Krung Thep and continues mellifluously for another 25 words.

Thai cuisine tends to operate by a similar shorthand in this country. It’s spicy, we say. It’s got peanuts. And coconut milk.

But as A Taste of Thai reminds us, Thai food is all this and more. The restaurant balances the four great flavors of Thailand—hot, sweet, salty and sour—to create dishes that are simple without being plain, complex without being mannered.

A Taste of Thai offers several classic examples of this skill—standards such as chicken satay on wooden skewers ($7.95); the familiar pad Thai mix of noodles, shrimp, poultry, vegetables and chopped peanuts ($8.25); and the traditionally incendiary Thai fried rice ($7.95).

Wonton soup ($3.50 small, $6.95 large), a Cantonese specialty served here with carrots, and green papaya salad ($6.95), a Laotian mainstay prepared here with chilies, express the pan-Asian sensibility often found in Thai establishments.

Indeed, dinner began with the deep-fried spring and seafood rolls ($6.95) common to many Asian cuisines. The rolls were crispy without being greasy and were accompanied by both peanut and sweet-and-sour dipping sauces. Silky slivers of cabbage and shrimp in the fillings contrasted beautifully with the textural crunch of the pastry wrappers.

A tiny salad of minced cucumbers and red peppers, coated with sugar and vinegar, provided respite from the zesty Thai spices in the dipping sauces.

Angel wings ($6.95) were also deep-fried. This delicately tangy combination of ground poultry and pork, glass noodles and vegetables was served in slices arranged to resemble a chicken wing.

With the main courses, the meal entered more extravagant terrain.

Ruby chicken curry ($7.95) expertly blended sweet bamboo shoots and biting Thai chilies. Cool coconut milk tempered the heat of the chilies and drew out nuances in flavor. My dinner companion enjoyed the curry alone or with spoonfuls of steaming white rice drawn from a lacquered canister.

Pad see-iuw ($7.95), at first, got the best of me. The spiciness of its sauce overwhelmed the taste of the underlying pork, egg, broccoli and rice noodles—at least, to my tongue.

I reflexively waved my hand in front of my mouth, and our server solicitously approached, no doubt secretly amused at my inability to handle a course that isn’t hot by Thai standards.

But as I grew accustomed to the spiciness, I began to appreciate the soothing notes of coconut milk enfolding the gently salty meat, the crisp vegetables and the tender noodles.

Coconut milk also structured the most surprising dish of the meal—the Thai custard ($4). My companion and I competed for forkfuls of this luscious mixture of eggs, brown sugar and coconut that was cut into a rectangle and laid on a bed of warm white rice sweetened with coconut milk. The custard reminded me a bit of a Japanese rice pudding that wasn’t rubbery.

As the evening ended, I noticed a photograph on the dining room wall. It showed a gentleman wearing a silk sash resplendent with ceremonial badges and honors. Our server told me the man was King Phoumiphonadunyadate, Thailand’s reigning monarch.

I feel certain His Majesty would be pleased with A Taste of Thai.