A little jewel with big Thai flavors

CorrespondentDecember 3, 2010 

  • 108 Osterville Drive, Holly Springs

    303-5700

    www.thaithaicuisinenc.com

    Cuisine: Thai

    Rating:

    Prices: $$

    Atmosphere: cozy, casual 26-seat jewel box

    Noise level: low

    Service: friendly and efficient

    Recommended: chicken satay, larb gai, curries, crispy duck basil, sticky rice

    Open: Lunch and dinner daily.

    Reservations: accepted

    Other: beer only; accommodates children; solid vegetarian selection

    The N&O's critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: Extraordinary Excellent. Above average. Average. Fair.

    The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.

If you don't live in Holly Springs, chances are you've never heard of Thai Thai Cuisine. Even if you do, you might well have driven past the restaurant - tucked into a building complex that looks more like doctors' offices than a strip mall - every day since it opened in February without ever noticing it. Maybe you've even passed it on the way to dinner at one of the half-dozen Thai restaurants in Cary.

That would be a shame, because Thai Thai Cuisine is just what the doctor ordered. The restaurant is the first solo venture for Jirawan Pavapotago, who previously worked at two of those eateries (Thai Villa and Tom Yum Thai). The food she turns out single-handedly in her tiny kitchen is every bit the equal of what you'll get elsewhere, and sometimes better.

You would search in vain for juicier, more flavorful chicken satay, for one. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a more rewarding rendition of larb gai, the classic salad of minced chicken tossed in lime juice and fish sauce punctuated with red onion, fresh mint and fiery flecks of bird chile. Be sure to order a basket of sticky rice to go with the larb. It's the traditional companion for Thai salads, a natural with everything from grilled beef (nam tok) to green papaya (som tam).

Tod mun pla, fish cakes riddled with citrusy shards of lemongrass, are also first-rate. Even tofu triangles, cloud-soft beneath a fragile deep-fried surface and paired with a sweet chile dipping sauce, rise above the bland promise of their name. And if summer rolls, spring rolls and shrimp in blankets don't particularly outshine the competition, neither do they fall noticeably short.

Thai curries are well-represented by all the usual variations on red, green, massaman and panang. Green chicken curry is exemplary, from the tender breast meat and fresh vegetables to the tropical perfume of a sauce spangled with basil and kaffir lime. At the opposite end of the flavor spectrum is a house specialty featuring deep-fried catfish in a comparatively mild but equally fragrant panang curry. Roasted duck curry, another specialty, is a deluxe riff on a red coconut curry chockablock with pineapples and cherry tomatoes.

The selection of noodles and stir-fry dishes is relatively modest, but covers pad see ew (wide rice noodles with broccoli, carrots and egg in dark soy sauce) to pad kra pow (choice of meat, tofu or vegetable in spicy Thai basil sauce).

Pad thai delivers all the expected components in an authentically fish sauce-funky sauce that is mercifully devoid of ketchup. The shrimp version serves up properly cooked shellfish in generous portion.

Crispy duck basil raises the ante on the traditional kra pow with boneless duck (whose skin is, for the most part, crispy as promised) in a rich, spicy sauce lavished with bright, crunchy red and green bell peppers and a shower of basil leaves.

Some misfires

Dishes occasionally fall short of the mark, but seldom as short as the yum talay I encountered recently, which was marred by chewy squid and complete absence of promised scallops. More typical were the ka nom jeep I was served on another night, a dish that would have been a winner had the dumplings not been soft to the point of falling apart when picked up.

When mangoes are in season, sweet sticky rice with mango is the way to go for dessert. When they aren't, Thai custard with sticky rice should afford ample consolation.

The dining room is a 26-seat jewel box of a space, with elephant-themed silk tapestries on the walls and dried flowers on the glossy mahogany-stained tabletops. The casual and cozy feel is reinforced by the fact that a single, friendly, super-efficient waitress manages to serve the entire room without missing a beat.

But there is one potential downside to the dining room's compact size. Once people in Cary get wind of Thai Thai Cuisine, they may start driving down to Holly Springs when the mood for Thai hits them.

ggcox@bellsouth.net

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