What could be more romantic than a love story that starts with a plate of pad Thai? One that starts with three plates, perhaps. That's what Frankie Perrone ordered after his first bite of Jintana Lauchalermsuk's noodles 13 years ago at the Bellmore restaurant where she was chef. He asked to meet her; they chatted; he gave her his phone number; she called.
Fast-forward to now, when the couple (married for four years) have a restaurant of their own. Frankie, a buoyant host, refers to his wife as "the real magic" behind the place.
Lauchalermsuk's light, fresh pad Thai with vegetables is, as a friend puts it, "like being hugged." I concur.
The chef's skill shows in an appetizer called "golden bags," spiced ground chicken wrapped in dough and fried to a greaseless crunch. Curry puffs, made with spiced potatoes, virtually dissolve on the tongue. Then, there are cool summer rolls, rice paper rolled around shredded vegetables, and noodles spiked with cilantro and drizzled with tamarind sauce. A riot of flavors, textures and temperatures plays into a duck salad with pineapple and peanuts in a subtly spicy lime sauce.
Lauchalermsuk respects the level of spicing requested. A pineapple curry with chicken, ordered spicy hot, juxtaposes the fiery with the fruity. Somehow, "drunken" noodles with chicken simultaneously ignite and soothe the palate. Another dish to remember: the feisty mango shrimp curry. And I find myself unable to stop eating a nuanced green curry with chicken. The same thing happens when I order eggplant basil, a vegetarian dish I could almost live on.
Dinner concludes with ripe mango and sticky rice. And something else: Thai-style zeppoli, fried nuggets of dough, served warm, drizzled with icing. Frankie Perrone first tasted the dish at a Bangkok street stand and knew he had to bring it to Franklin Square.
The milky tom kha gai (chicken coconut soup) is merely OK, the chicken a bit overcooked. Tom yum (hot and sour) soup with shrimp is forgettable, too.