Suburban American Thai food, cooked with care and confidence, can be a lovely thing. At Lemon Leaf Thai Restaurant, you may not swear you're in Bangkok, but you should feel glad to find yourself in Mineola. Here, culinary authenticity takes a backseat to just plain contentment.
The white meat in the tom kha gai (chicken coconut soup) was amazingly tender, the broth revved up with chilies, mellowed with coconut, sparked with lime. Tam yum goong (spicy and sour shrimp soup) had verve, along with plump shellfish. Shrimp was a major player in the mild but deftly seasoned seafood soup with glass noodles and calamari.
And what a great calamari salad, starring honeycomb whole squid with tomatoes, fresh mint, onions, basil, lemongrass and chili.
A massamum chicken curry with peanuts and potatoes, ordered "very spicy," did the job of igniting the palate. Another time, a Penang chicken curry (with basil, coriander, pepper and coconut milk) had the fine layering of flavors I crave in Thai food.
There was more of a Chinese vibe to the garlic chicken with shiitake mushrooms, scallions and bamboo shoots. A real surprise was the mango duck, a visual knockout in shades of orange and green. Though described as sweet and sour, the dish had savor and depth.
It took self-control to stop eating the pad see-yu, an uber-satisfying mélange of stir-fried broad rice noodles, beef, Chinese broccoli and eggs.
Fried banana turned out to be a delicate dessert version of a spring roll.
I had such hopes for the kwyatio pad gai, fresh noodles stir-fried with chicken, vegetables and lime leaf. Too sweet, a trifle gummy. A dessert of underripe mango with sticky rice should have read "soupy rice."
With friendly service, low prices and attractive surroundings, there's a high pleasure quotient for a low cash expenditure.