The Gossiping Gourmet: Silk Thai a smooth dining experience

There are quite a few Thai restaurants in the Huntington Beach area, but Silk Thai Cuisine is an excellent one in the Newland Center, a charming little strip mall on Beach Boulevard north of Adams Avenue.

Normally, "charming strip mall" would be an oxymoron, but this one is set back from the boulevard and features brick sidewalks, pleasant architecture, tall palm trees and inviting outdoor tables. There, in a mini-restaurant row, Thai Silk is a clean and pleasant family-run restaurant (using no MSG or trans-fats) with food from all four culinary regions of Thailand: North, Northeast (Issan), South and Central. Central dominates here, as it does in most restaurants.

If you've never tried Thai food, you might be surprised to know that it isn't served with chopsticks but with a fork and spoon. The fork is supposed to be used to push food onto the spoon. This Westernized tradition began with King Mongkut, Rama IV, (immortalized in the musical "The King And I"), who reigned from 1851 to 1868 and was taught to eat Western style by an American missionary.

Improperly employing our forks, we dived into a green mango salad, a variant on the well-known Issan green papaya salad. Thin shreds of crunchy, unripe mango were combined with red and green onions, cabbage, basil and cilantro in a sour lime dressing with a just a hint of sweetness and a touch of fish sauce for depth and saltiness. It was nice way to start the meal — crisp and refreshing.

Tod Man Pla is a patty made from ground fish and a few chopped green beans, seasoned with chili paste and kaffir lime leaves and bound with a bit of egg. The thin rounds are deep fried without any type of coating. If you are not a fish fancier, you will probably like these anyway since they have no discernable fish flavor.

Although they looked a bit greasy, the oil they were cooked in was so fresh that they had no greasy taste at all and were quite delicious. They were served with a classic sweet chili sauce with chopped cucumber and roasted peanuts, which made them even better as the fish cakes and the sauce married perfectly.

When we ordered our entrées, our waitress asked us how hot we wanted to go on a scale of 1 to 10. She said that a feature of the restaurant is spicing the food to your taste. If you aren't sure, ask for a low number and request the condiment tray that includes crushed dried chilies, green chilies in rice vinegar, fish sauce and fresh ground chili paste.

Panang curry of deep-fried soft-shelled crab was the special of the month, and we ordered it as a No. 4 on the heat scale. Panang is a coconut milk curry with a hint of peanut flavor and a sweet and fruity undertone.

It was absolutely delicious, as were the crunchy sweet crabs, which tasted fresh from the sea. The appearance of the plate was very nice with broccoli florets surrounding the mound of crabs and crisp fried basil leaves sprinkled on top. Presentation is not usually emphasized in this family restaurant as evidenced by our next dish.

Although Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodles) was as tasty as could be, it wasn't lovely to look at. Wide rice noodles in chili sauce were mixed with chicken, red and green bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and some mighty hot slivers of green chili.

The excellent chewy rice noodles were in equal proportion to the rest of the ingredients, making for a good balance. Everything was lightly bathed in a flavorful brown sauce. At No. 5, this was about as spicy as we would have liked because of the tiny explosions of heat from those chilies. All entrées are served with your choice of protein: chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu, etc.

For dessert, instead of ice cream we chose the roll-tee, a fried pancake rolled around a sweet creamy filling. It was real "fair food" fare — greasy, rich and sweet.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Silk Thai Cuisine

Where: 19690 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach

When: Monday through Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Friday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Saturday: Noon to 10 p.m.

Sunday: Noon to 9:30 p.m.

Prices:

Appetizers: $4.99 to $9.99

Entrées: $7.99 to $14.99

Desserts: $3.99 to $6.99

Wine:

Carafe 1/2: $13.95 full: $24.95-$25.95

By the glass: $5.95-$6.95

Corkage Fee: $10

Information: (714) 964-1151 or gosilkthai.com

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