IN A SMALL, spare Blue Point storefront with orange sponge-painted walls, you'll find some of the liveliest Thai fare on the Island. Modest in appearance only, Thongpanchang has become a magnet for an avid and growing clientele. The restaurant is owned by a Thai-American couple, Jan and Chang Thongsanga; Chang is both waiter and maitre d'; Jan does all the cooking.

Her skill is evident in the first spoonful of tom ka gai, Thai chicken soup, filled with tender pieces of poultry, its spicy, citric edge gentled by coconut milk. Tom yum goong (shrimp hot and sour soup) is fiery and forthright.

Don't leave without savoring her knockout basil roll, a steamed rice noodle wrapper stuffed with fresh basil leaves, plump shrimp, lettuce and shredded carrots. Shrimp in a blanket is an eminently likeable dish: five large crustaceans, each stuffed with a chicken forcemeat, then bundled in a spring-roll skin and fried to an audible crunch. The somewhat dry steamed Thai dumplings, filled with a pale mixture of minced shrimp, chicken and water chestnuts, come to life after a dunk in the peppy soy-based dip. Juicy grilled chicken satays are imbued with a mild curry flavor, accompanied by peanut sauce and a refreshing coconut salad.

Barbecue beef salad typifies the contrast of flavor, texture and temperature underlying Thai salads: warm, slightly chewy sliced barbecued beef spiked with Thai chiles and onions, their heat cooled by pieces of cucumber, tomato, lime and iceberg lettuce.

An entree special, mango chicken curry, features thick slices of the mellow fruit tossed with chunks of tender poultry in a feisty velvet-textured sauce. A friend who had never eaten Thai food before was won over by the delicious peanut curry with chicken, its sauce rich, nutty and fragrant. But pad prak ruam, beef with mixed vegetables in brown sauce, is bland and uninteresting. Surprisingly, the house pad Thai - the classic noodle dish with shrimp, egg, vegetables and peanuts - can be dry. Better is the "spicy noodle chicken," an irresistible combination of flat chow-fun-like noodles and pieces of chicken, chile, basil and vegetables. Another winner is the dish called "two friends Panang," jumbo shrimp, chicken and vegetables in a resonant Panang curry sauce.

I've never been partial to sticky rice, but the sesame-sprinkled version offered for dessert, with sliced mango, is redolent of coconut, impossible to stop eating. Try it.

At Thongpanchang, you may have to wait, for your table and for your order. Quarters are cramped. Whenever somebody enters or exits (the place does a busy takeout business), a gust of wind air rushes in.

Still, the owners are working hard to make things better. Credit cards, which weren't accepted when the restaurant opened, now are. You can also now get wine and Thai beer.

Don't expect to spend much. Just come with patience and an appetite for the kind of Thai food that richly rewards.

 

Joan Reminick

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