Ra-Cha Thai Cuisine
255 Main St., Huntington
SERVICE: Warm, friendly
AMBIENCE: Serene meets noisy
ESSENTIALS: Open Sunday and Monday noon to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday noon to 10 p.m.; weekend reservations recommended; major credit cards accepted; step at entrance and tight dining area for wheelchair use.
The term “ra-cha” suggests royalty.
At this restaurant, it also means business.
Ra-Cha Thai Cuisine has moved smoothly into the former address of Tum Thai, which continues to ignite palates in Rockville Centre. Before that, it was Ariana, for decades a popular Afghan spot in downtown Huntington.
Any diner remembering Tum Thai will note that almost nothing has changed in the décor under new owner Pattarachai Subworaphon and family.
There’s still more than enough gold leaf on the ceiling sculptures and the artful birds’ nests continue to twinkle amid the crystal chandeliers. The compact dining room is a mix of glittery lights and neutral hues. The noise level can bounce from moderate to booming in an instant, playing off hard surfaces and underscoring how much diners are talking contentedly about what’s on their plates.
What really causes sparks at this newcomer is the aromatic, vibrant, light and delicately spicy cuisine of chef Phannee Prungsak, who was a chef in Thailand and also is Subworaphon’s aunt.
Prungsak prepares all the familiar Thai dishes, emphasizing balanced flavors. Here’s a hint of coriander and clove; there, some cinnamon and star anise. And the hot, but subtle, presence of crushed chilies is apt to pop up anywhere.
Immediately, her kitchen is at the crest of the wave of Thai eateries that has spurred appetites in Nassau and Suffolk in the last decade. General manager Chanisra Thongpanich’s attentive and accommodating staff sets the right mood.
You’ll enjoy the expected pad thai noodles, with either seafood or tofu, and the tender chicken satay, with a peanut sauce you’ll want to buy by the quart. The crackling, crisp Thai spring roll, with noodles; and the bright summer roll, boosted by basil leaves, refresh the standards and let you know the calendar is briskly moving along.
Likewise, mild Thai dumplings with marinated, ground chicken and water chestnut; and especially the fragrant, half-moon curry puffs filled with chicken, potato and onions and paired with cucumber salad. Sesame and black pepper jump-start the seared tuna, which gets a little jolt from wasabi-mayo sauce.
Ra-Cha’s menu is punctuated with red-pepper symbols. The fare kindles with two invigorating salads. Som tum, a thatch of slivered green papaya rife with chilies and peanuts; and larb gai, a fiery production starring ground chicken.
Continue the theme with nam tok nua, a beef salad version of larb gai; and yum ped, a spirited duck salad fueled with chili paste. Nua yang, or barbecued sliced beef with chili-tamarind dressing, keeps up the BTUs, too.
Duck rolls, a vertical trio with cucumber and apple that’s sauced with hoisin, is ideal for sharing. If you need an extra shot of sweetness, veer toward mee krob, the tangle of crunchy rice noodles that tastes nearly caramelized.
Ra-Cha prepares a spirited khao soi, with both egg noodles and crisp ones in a vivid curry broth. All the curries are recommended. Try the massaman, with its notes of bay and tamarind in coconut milk, with tofu or squid; and the salty, sweet panang, fired up with chili paste and lime leaves, with either shrimp or chicken.
Ka na moo krob, or thickly cut pork belly, slips from crisp to overdone in a garlicky brown sauce. “Hot sweet basil duck” earns its adjectives with basil leaves in garlic sauce. Peanut chicken, a marinated, tender breast, arrives grilled in a savory peanut sauce.
Whole red snapper, deftly fried, stands out in a spicy-tart sauce with garlic and bell peppers. Whole sea bass, also fried till crisp outside while staying snowy within, benefits from a modest chili-and-Thai basil sauce.
Conclude with pumpkin custard, fried bananas with honey, or maybe green tea ice cream.
You’ll want nothing more — except maybe another reservation.