First comes the spicy jolt of hot chili peppers. Then, the salty, pungent lick of fish sauce, bumping up against the sour tang of tamarind and lime. Bringing balance is a touch of sweetness from palm sugar. All this in a single sip of tom yum shrimp soup.
With its seductive dance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy, Thai food can set your heart to pumping. At each of these Long Island favorites, a Thai chef skillfully manipulates the multifold flavors of this compelling cuisine.
Thai Taste, Massapequa Park: In a quietly elegant setting defined by autumn colors, you will find tom kha gai, chicken coconut soup, done with subtlety and skill. Also on the menu are irresistible cilantro corn fritters. Other standouts include pad kee mao, stir-fried flat noodles with crushed chili and basil, and a very good shrimp massaman curry. (Under the same ownership: Thai Table, Rockville Centre.)
Thai Coconut, Wantagh: A simply but tastefully appointed little restaurant just steps from the LIRR station where you'll be happy to commune with a bowl of sour-spicy tom yum goong that's rife with plump shrimp. Also good: tom ka tai (a nuanced chicken coconut milk soup), yam pla muik (calamari salad), Panang curry with pumpkin and beef, mango duck.
Ra-Kang in Long Beach serves a knockout Panang curry, pictured, with duck.
Thai House, Smithtown: Amphai Holmquist took over as chef-owner of this restaurant four years ago, adding lots of spark. Her sweet-sour-salty-spicy duck salad is a standout laced with apples. Fine, too, are drunken noodles with vegetables and a vibrant-hot shrimp massaman curry. Don't miss her house-made cinnamon ice cream.
Siam Lotus, Bay Shore: Danny Poom opened this popular Thai restaurant back in 1992. Neither the decor nor the high quality of the cuisine has essentially changed. Recent favorites include a fragrant shrimp salad with lemongrass and hot peppers, an inventive massaman chicken curry done with avocados and spicy noodles with pork, both fiery and comforting.
Thai Angel, Islandia: Hidden away in a nondescript strip mall is this surprisingly large and lovely Thai spot whose owner, Nakul Keattikul, grows chilies in his backyard. You will feel their power if you order your Penang chicken curry or spicy noodles Thai hot. Spicy and sweet basil duck is a treat, too.
Krung Tep Thai Bistro
a href="http://long-island.newsday.com/restaurants/krung-tep-thai-bistro-1.9677513">Krung Tep Thai Bistro, Great Neck: In a serenely pretty little dining room, you'll find an array of delicious dishes including the knockout Thai spareribs (pictured), a dish you won't see on most Thai menus; tom yum soup with shrimp hits all the right spicy-salty-sour-sweet notes; a red curry with shrimp has fire power; and is a resonant green curry with fish filets tthat marry well with the eggplant-studded sauce.
Frankly Thai, Franklin Square: Jintana Lauchalermsuk cooks the food of her homeland with respect, passion and a certain lightness. She offers five levels of spicing and honors requests. Standouts include a superb pad Thai, curry puffs, duck salad, drunken noodles and eggplant with basil.
Sripraphai, Williston Park: The LI offshoot of the Woodside temple of authentic Thai cuisine offers a dizzying array of dishes spiced to spec. Recommendations include larb, a salad of pork with mint, chili and lime; barbecued pork tenders; crisp Chinese watercress with chicken, shrimp and squid, as well as papaya salad with dry shrimp and peanuts.
Phayathai, Lake Ronkonkoma: Chef-owner Veerawat Satsri cooks with skill and subtlety and will give you the heat level requested. Recommendations: electrifying shrimp hot and sour soup; radna, a comforting main course noodle soup; drunken noodles with chicken; crisp, juicy basil duck; and Penang salmon with chopped shrimp and a coconut curry sauce.
Sabai Thai Bistro
Sabai Thai Bistro, Miller Place: At this elegant Thai restaurant, the interplay of sweet, spicy, salty and sour comes through in such dishes as a chicken and mango curry that vegetarians can get with imitation duck. Super pad thai, too. (Under same ownership: Thai Gourmet in Port Jefferson Station.)
Sarin Thai, Greenvale: A spacious, formal spot where the tom yum soup hits all the right notes and a shredded papaya salad with peanuts highlights the four primary flavors of Thai cuisine. Also recommended: a ringing hot sea scallop red curry and spicy pad kee mao, noodles with shrimp.