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Review: Simply Thai

Plain and fancy
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  November 30, 2011

The restaurant is named Simply Thai, but the food you can expect to get there is not so simple at all. It's set up like a fast food place but it serves flavorful, complex Thai dishes I wanted to linger over.

Simply Thai looks like a typical in-and-out joint and since, it's near University of Rhode Island's main campus, to some extent it needs to be. It's a clean, sleek place with plenty of booths and tables with scoop chairs, to all appearances a well-organized franchise chain but actually independent. You order at the counter, above which is the menu, like at McDonald's, but when it's not busy your order is brought to your table. While you wait, you may wander about and peruse the gallery-quality photographs of Thailand scenes that line the walls.

Before I was through with my meal I had appreciated several touches that should be the default for every Thai restaurant. First was the picture of every item, large enough to see all the components, on the menu. Not an uncommon practice, but not common enough. (Waitstaff at Asian restaurants must spend more time explaining dishes than serving them.)

The restaurant bills itself as serving "Thai street food," but that's only one component. There are not only dumplings and an edamame ($3.95) snack of in-pod salted soy beans but also a dozen-plus stir fry choices.

In the same pan-Asian spirit in which Cambodian nime chow spring rolls are to be had in every Vietnamese restaurant, here and there on the menu are non-Thai dishes, such as Singapore noodles and a teriyaki pan fry. The ubiquitous Indonesian satay is available too.

Two categories of soup (four in each) are separated on the menu. One has noodles ($7.25-$7.95), such as pho and one with Malay spices. The other group ($2.50-$3.25) ranges from miso to wonton, and I sampled the remaining two soups on a couple of visits. The chicken coconut soup ($3.25) had a mild lime tang, plus not just ginger but Siamese ginger, they note. The tom yum goong shrimp soup was well-balanced, hot and sour, with lemongrass nicely complementing the lime taste. There were plenty of mushroom slices and cilantro floating on top, and a few grape tomatoes to pleasantly burst in my mouth. It was one-chili hot and just spicy enough. (The four-chili designation is "Bring your handkerchief.")

An appetizer I was especially glad to have was the garlic chives pancakes ($4.95). They were a generous portion crispy and thick enough to be moist inside, with plenty of chives yet (garlic fans, note that garlic chives have little to do with garlic or its taste). These were as good as they get.

A friend had recommended som tum ($6.25) — a green papaya salad — and that was fortunate. There were strands of shredded green papaya, with some carrot for color, and some shrimp and roasted peanuts, in a sweet and sour dressing that could have been zippier. An even better starter were "fresh rolls" ($4.25), two to a serving: fresh mango slices in spring roll skin cones, amped up nicely by chili in a thickened peanut sauce.

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