If I tried, I think I could work up a tear recalling the '70s, when there were no Thai restaurants in Rhode Island — a dark age largely devoid of the culinary spice of life. Thank goodness there was Szechuan.
A restaurant named Spice Thai has been in the same location for two years, in a North Kingstown shopping center between a nail salon and a storefront church. The ownership changed in May. The new chef is Saysongkhan "Soun" Phouthakoun, whose efforts we checked out recently on the recommendation of foodie friends, recommended in turn by a Thai friend of theirs. His menu pretty much clones East Providence's and Middletown's doubly appreciated Siam Square, run by his relatives. It has only four tables now, but that will likely change before long as word gets out about the quality of the food. All hits, no misses, on our visit.
The offerings are varied and numerous. That's typified by the appetizers, all under $6, except for the satay ($6.50), available as charcoal-grilled shrimp instead of marinated chicken at the same price. There are the expected items, such as dumplings both steamed and fried, and the description of their "Fresh Roll" sounds like the standard nime chow. Items not found everywhere include tod mun pla: minced shrimp and fish, curried, chilied, and deep-fried. Also what they call the "Golden Bag," another fried wonton, this time filled with cheese and surimi.
They were out of veggie dumplings, which Johnnie had a yen for, but she settled for another favorite, here called tofu triangles. Simple request, simple to execute: flash-fried to create a greaseless, crisp skin around the softness, alongside a sweet, crunchy peanut sauce. We also had a Siam roll, a fried spring roll with minced chicken that looks uniformly and flavorlessly white within but holds a fascinating seasoning flavor. Another version, also priced at $5.50, has no chicken.
There are five soups, all but one a ridiculously low $3.25. (The seafood selection will cost you a whole $.25 more.) Silver soup is a clear broth with ground chicken balls, and there's a veggie tofu soup. I usually order hot and sour soup at Chinese restaurants; tom yum is the Thai version, here with choice of chicken or shrimp and sporting a hotness warning of two chilies of a possible three. But I usually choose Tom kar gai, for its coconut milk creamy richness. The choice won't disappoint here, with its spark of lime juice, and earthy hint of galanga, plus copious amounts of chicken.
For a main dish, I had been intrigued by something on the marker board in the front window called Duck Madness ($10.50). Our waiter Sean — the second one is also named Sean, probably for our convenience — said it was "simple but delicious," with chili paste, garlic, and basil. But on the menu I noticed sesame duck ($14.95 dinner/$9.50 lunch — instead of combination plates for lunch, there are smaller portions of most of the items at proportionately lower prices). Fortunately, I couldn't resist. There was plenty of meat, and the aromatic sesame oil in the soy sauce also worked wonderfully with the onions, zucchini, and mushrooms, aptly accented with fresh cilantro.
Fresh basil leaves were the brighteners on two dishes we had, although neither needed further cheering up. Johnnie's favorite of the evening was the drunken noodles ($9.25), flagged with two chilies. The wide rice noodles were stir-fried with vegetables and lots and lots of minced chicken. Delicious. The other was the spicy eggplant ($9.50), three chilies on the menu but reduced to two on our request. Whole slices of the main ingredients were stir-fried with vegetables and mushrooms. Bamboo shoots and a few strips of julienned carrot — more were needed — provided contrasting crunch.
Our last dish was sizzling himmaparn ($12.95), which we chose with shrimp instead of chicken. Shrimp went better with the pineapple chunks, just as the roasted cashews would have complemented the chicken. Two chilies and two stars.
Don't leave without having the sticky rice with mango ($4.50). Not overly sweet, ample slices of ripe fruit. Enjoy it quickly — people are waiting for your table.