Tum Thai Cuisine
274 Merrick Rd., Rockville Centre
AMBIENCE Very good
SERVICE Very good
ESSENTIALS Lunch, Monday to Friday, noon to 3:30 p.m.; dinner menu daily, 3:30 to 10 p.m.; accepts major credit cards; wheelchair accessible; no liquor license
Heart-shaped gold leaves seem to float, shimmering, above the dining room of Tum Thai Cuisine, an attractive Thai newcomer. Also suspended from the ceiling are delicate crystal chandeliers set within gilded birdcages, everything imported from Thailand. Although the place is dimly lit, expansive arched windows bring the multicolor lights of downtown Rockville Centre inside. It’s a dramatic interplay of light and dark.
And a fitting metaphor for the complex and layered flavors of Thai cuisine. That complexity comes through in the restaurant’s version of the chicken-lime-coconut soup called tom kha gai as well as in the hot-and-sour tom yum goong, a crimson brew with shrimp and mushrooms. An appetizer special of grilled squid is imbued with the characteristically Thai spicy-sweet-sour vibe, although some ringlets are less tender than others.
Another special — this one a barbecued duck roll — is ornate but less interesting, coming off as more Asian fusion than Thai. Grilled beef satays are tender but unexciting; the opposite holds true of curry puffs, ethereal little pastries with potatoes, chicken and onions, which manage to convey both intrigue and comfort.
The comfort factor also runs high in pad see ew, flat rice noodles stir-fried with Chinese broccoli, chicken and egg. You may recognize the dish called “spicy noodle” as pad kee mao (drunken noodles). The melange of flat rice noodles, basil, peppers and onions works well with shrimp, but it comes off as more sweet than fiery.
Shrimp fits nicely into a beautifully nuanced red curry with eggplant, basil and coconut milk, while beef seems optimal in the potato and peanut-laced massamam curry, a hearty and satisfying dish. Vegetarians ordering spicy eggplant might want to get it with tofu instead of a vegetarian version of duck that doesn’t come close to the real thing.
A surprise hit is mixed seafood with a tamarind sauce whose sweetness is offset by undercurrents of spice. Not only is the dish plated with artistry, but every component — shrimp, scallops, mussels and squid — is cooked to a precise degree of doneness.
And fried ice cream far surpasses the leaden cliche. Better still is crème brûlée: three little dishes, each holding a different flavor of custard — green tea, Thai iced tea and Thai ice coffee. An elegant and fitting finale.