A Go quick! Before word gets out B You'll want seconds C If there's no wait D Send back to the kitchen F Not even if someone else pays

Thai House

Original publication: 02/13/03

"Magnificent" is a term history uses sparingly. Not since the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent reigned in the early 16th century has anyone been thought to merit it.

So perhaps it sounds a little presumptuous for Thai House in Nyack to tack the term "magnificent Thai food" to its name. While the quality of the food at Thai House is commendable, the only way that turn-of-phrase avoids hyperbole is when "magnificent" magnifies Thai cuisine in general.

Thai cuisine ranges in color from red or yellow in the curry to green or red in the chili. It produces varying sensations like peppery burn or menthol coolness. It delivers an herbal ordinance anywhere between sweet basil to sharp cilantro. It juxtaposes luxurious peanut butter with astringent vinegar, and sugary coconut with bitter tamarind, not to mention garlic, ginger and citrus. Perhaps magnificent does not do Thai cuisine justice.

Thai House uses this wide palette with a degree of mastery, especially in dishes like Gang Phed Ped Yang ($16.95), a duck dish that blends fiery red curry with velvety coconut milk. The sauce is so wide-ranging in appeal that it can effortlessly bring together disparate ingredients like tomato, pineapple and broccoli. The roasted chunks of duck are stir-fried for extra crispness, with the folds of the skin cracklings holding extra sauce.

Green is a color that indicates coolness, as in the Gang Keow Whan ($14.95), green curry of shrimp and mixed vegetables. Still tantalizingly sweet from coconut and basil leaves, it has a resonance that echoes over mild vegetables like eggplant, string beans and zucchini.

A third shade is created from red curry powder in Beef Panang, a golden and savory well-constructed stew of beef chunks and baby Belgian carrots. The beef was extremely tender and juicy even while being thoroughly cooked.

Red returns with a vengeance in Kai Prig Khing ($12.95), a construction of chicken breast slices and string beans in red chili paste. Unlike curry, that presents diverse flavors in mystical proportions, chili delivers a long, slow burn on the lips and tongue, and the mild ingredients in this dish are appropriately set ablaze.

Pad Thai ($11.95), a noodle dish with savory natural sauce flavored with shrimp and ground peanut, is a welcome respite from the hammer and tongs of curry and chili.

While great sauces are a hallmark of Thai cuisine, there are equally satisfying simpler items like salads and soups. Yum Nuea ($8.95) is a sliced beef and red onion salad, with cuts of tomato over a bed of crisp lettuce. The dressing is based on lemon, at its tasty citric best, held in check by light overtones of salt, sugar and red pepper that each satisfy certain primal cravings.

Tom Yum Goong ($3.75) is traditional Thai hot and sour soup flavored with lemon grass and chili paste. Lemon grass approximates the flavorful zest of lemon to a T, but without the pucker, which the chef achieves with a squeeze of lime. Any chili appears to be strained out. The heat is in there, but no flakes of pepper to caught in the throat.

But some appetizers have elaborate sauces as well, like the Satay ($6.50), skewered chicken grilled with garlic and herbs, in a pool of the now-familiar peanut sauce. Chunky, like the peanut butter from which it is made, it radiates brightness through ginger and citrus.

Mee Grob ($6.95) is a fried noodle appetizer dotted with small shrimp and fried tofu. The sweet and sour sauce is more like honey and lemon than the ketchupy version served by Chinese restaurants.

Prawn rolls ($6.95) were high class fried spring rolls, with no filler, only peppery marinated shrimp. Sweet and sour chili paste made an excellent dip for the cigar-like tubes.

Crispy cups ($6.95) used golden Madras-style curry as a condiment in a hash of chicken, shrimp and corn stuffed into fried wafer cups. With a snappy texture, the cups were a nice appetizers, but more suitable for hors d'oeuvres passed at a function.

For refreshment, Mezza Corona Pinot Grigio ($19) with its tart finish cut against the sauces when necessary. Singha ($3.75), Thai beer, is similar to malt liquor with its thinner body and harsher aftertaste.

Located in a Quonset hut that looks to have served a million cups of Java over many decades of use, Thai House's diminutive interior is transformed by colorful decorative pieces that make a huge visual impact without taking up much of the precious space.