Until Centara came along, Stony Brook University was without the Thai restaurant obligatory to any full-fledged college town. The niche was filled when this attractive spot opened, with its polished wood floors, raffia chairs and folkloric wall art. The menu, big on standards, offers neophytes Thai 101.
At a server's urging, I order curry puffs, a special that comes off as a Thai version of a potato knish made with chicken and onion; it's flaky outside with a fluffy filling. Another success is ku-chai, fat steamed rice cakes stuffed with bright Chinese chives. Chicken satays, threaded onto skewers, ooze savory juices.
Comfort gets a fiery jolt in the spicy noodles with shrimp, a stir-fry that includes egg, vegetables and shellfish in a chili-laced sauce. And there's home-style gratification in flat noodles with broccoli and sliced beef.
Green curry with chicken nicely balances flowery coconut notes with an undercurrent of chili. Garlic chicken is subtly nuanced; ginger shrimp, highly aromatic.
An ideal way to conclude on a wintry day is with baked yellow bean custard, a dish that evokes bread pudding.
A big concern is that requests for spicing may or may not be heeded. Mildness is the norm. This doesn't benefit the tom yum goong, a wimpy version of Thai hot and sour shrimp that's almost as underspiced as the tom kha gai (chicken coconut soup).
I order "dancing" squid because it's asterisked with a red pepper, but the promised chili paste isn't discernible; the tender ringlets just won't boogie. A special of mango chicken curry, ordered extra-hot, turns up mild, the mango pieces so big, they needed to be cut with a knife.
And a more welcoming attitude would work wonders. Instead, reservations are taken but not always honored. On one occasion, the check arrives before dessert.
It's possible to get a perfectly delicious meal here. You just have to hope the server and the chef are truly listening to you.