Balancing the Tastes of Thai Cuisine

The New York Times | Published February 4th, 2011
By Stephanie Lyness

THE gentle charm of Ayuthai Royal Thai Cuisine, a family-owned restaurant in Guilford, reveals itself quietly throughout the meal — in good food that is consistently fresh and light, and unobtrusive service that is just formal enough to make the meal feel like a night out.

The restaurant is housed in a nondescript building on Route 1 that does not do justice to the welcoming ambience within. Nor does its standard menu adequately reflect the fine preparation and presentation of the dishes.

The soups were particularly delicate. Tom yum was brothy and not too spicy, served in an attractive oval bowl with lots of shrimp, mushrooms and chunks of tomato. The well-balanced tom ka gai, tart with lime juice and redolent of the alluring scent of lime leaves, featured large pieces of fresh tomato, mushrooms and velvety strips of chicken floating in a light coconut broth. Woon sen noodle soup was more mundane — skinny rice noodles in a clear broth with vegetables — but tasty.

Deep-fried appetizers like koong tod (still juicy shrimp, deep-fried in spring roll wrappers) were also unusually light — as were the slender spring rolls, stuffed with a mix of shredded cabbage and carrot and served with a sweet chili sauce.

Steamed chicken dumplings were encased in very delicate rice wrappers. Summer rolls — pleasant if unremarkable with a fresh, crisp filling — were served with a thick, dark, judiciously spiced peanut sauce.

I would have liked more oomph in two salads. I missed the flavor of the grill in the beef salad (the meat was sautéed) and I’m used to a more aggressive hit of lime and fish sauce. The shredded green papaya salad was also milder than I’m accustomed to — more sweet than spicy. Fortunately, the ingredients in both were fresh and tasty. And my excellent, spicy jungle curry, a jumble of Japanese eggplant, green beans, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and broccoli, made up for the lack of chilies in the appetizers.

Duck chu chee was another terrific entree. The crisp-skinned half-duck was boned and sliced; the coconut sauce was slightly sweet with a suggestion of chili, leavened with the scent of lime leaves. A dish of pra raam (chicken with spinach in a thick, sweet peanut sauce) was adequate if not brilliant.

The only real disappointment was the mixed seafood special, a colorful heap of sea scallops, mussels, squid, shrimp and surimi crab in a light, spicy red chili sauce; the quality of the seafood was good and the sauce was tasty, but the seafood had been out of the pan too long, losing its fresh taste and texture.

On the other hand, two noodle dishes, pad thai and drunken noodles with beef, could not be faulted. Both were beautifully cooked, the noodles still firm, the seasoning bright.

Desserts were also exceptional here. A nicely ripened mango tasted delicious with sticky rice, the ginger ice cream was excellent, and two little dishes of warm coconut pudding — at once creamy and gelatinous, sweet and salty — were something of a revelation.