Nice Thai

Maybe she should wear a gimme cap: Traditional Thai meets New American at Royal Spice Thai Bistro.
Tracy Powell

If there's anything that can be said about Addison Circle, that fabricated suburban urban village that sprang up like a tax shelter around a huge blue metal sculpture composed of supine spindles, it's that it breeds restaurants with a gerbil-like prolificacy. There's Antonio Ristorante, Kampai Sushi & Grill, Avanti Euro Bistro, and Royal Spice Thai Bistro. On a recent visit to the last, the next table over was raving about Pastazio's Pizza, a much-lauded pizzeria tucked behind the Addison Circle curve near the project's common area-cum-canine privy.

Those raves should have been reserved for Royal Spice, the most successful restaurant in this cul-de-sac to date. Royal Spice Thai Bistro is the third restaurant by Jay and Gene Potchana, who also own Baan Thai in Lewisville and Royal Thai in Old Town Village in Dallas. I must admit I've never been much impressed with Royal Thai, an 8-plus-year-old restaurant serving traditional Thai cuisine that always comes across as more muddled than cleanly articulate. This is in sharp contrast to Royal Spice.

Chef-owner Jay Potchana calls Royal Spice's cuisine "New World Thai," which means "fusion" in culinary cliché-speak. New World Thai is a loose blending of Asian cuisine--Chinese, Thai, Japanese (sushi is on the way)--concocted with New American sensibilities (the menu includes crab cakes and a little thing called scallop hash). Through these blends, Royal Spice conjures Chow Thai Pacific Rim, that dazzling Asian restaurant in Plano by the founders of Chow Thai and Mango. But Royal Spice isn't nearly as daring--nor is its execution as precarious.

Virtually everything here works reasonably well, and in some cases remarkably so. Grilled scallops in mango sauce ($8), an appetizer special, is a simple scattering of small, grill-singed scallops among greens, mango strips, and plump blackberries, blueberries, and sliced strawberries. The meat is delicately tender with its modest sweetness strategically foiled by grill pungency. Everything is washed in Champagne vinaigrette that brightens the dish with floral savoriness.

Tempura shrimp cocktail ($8) was less successful, but only by a razor-thin margin. A handful of crisp, sweet but slightly oily shrimp were coated in a light, crunchy crust that effortlessly complemented the shrimp. With their tails resting on the plate surface scattered with mango scraps, the succulent flattened bodies were perched against the edge of a ramekin filled with pinkish ginger aioli, a dip that emboldened the sweet crunch with a searing zest.

Steamed mussels ($8) slipped further, but only by another tiny increment. Piled high in a bowl, the dark mollusk shells held tiny red meat buttons tasting sweet and briny with scraps of onion and lemongrass. Yet the broth, a blend of clam juice and sake, was bland.

Royal Spice's decor offers brisk atmospherics washed with the smell freshly sawed wood. The space is thick with cherry-wood cabinets, panels, and furnishings. A banquette with black seat coverings and purple, fabric-covered padded backs zigzags across the center of the dining room. Red glass triangular sconces are perched on walls painted powdered-breakfast-drink orange. Above the bar, a wavy white soffit meanders, leaving streaks of blue and pink neon light just below the ceiling. There's a wine room near the back, with a striking chandelier fashioned out of large glass cones hanging above the long table.

The Royal spice wine list indicates that the purveyors have at least an inkling of how wine works with this food. Structured with headings such as "spicy Thai whites," "spicy Thai reds," and "big boy reds," the list has workable eclecticism, such as an Alsatian Gewürztraminer, a dry and acid-rich Riesling, and a handful of sauvignon blancs and pinot grigios. But it also has an ample supply of Thai-vulnerable chardonnays, merlots, cabs and pinot noirs. Perhaps too ample--until you consider some of the subdued fusings.

Braised duck breast ($17) actually features a stewed leg and thigh bronzed by roasting. Slices of pan-fried breast fan out from the limb in a half-circle. Though slightly dry, the breast slices are silky, while the limbs are succulent and rich. Both are bathed in a lightly sweet sauce of reduced plum wine, oyster sauce, butter, and duck drippings.

Perhaps the most potent item on the menu is the bong bong chicken ($11). Sown with thick sheets of tender, supple rice noodle, bong bong is a simple scattershot of ground chicken and Thai basil in a clean, spicy oyster and Thai bean sauce blend.

Sautéed flank steak chips made the citrus beef ($12) more chewy than citrusy. Still, it did have an engagingly sweet orange-lemon sauce puddled under the meat. And those crusty pucks had tiny threads of orange zest to validate the name. But the meat was a little inconsistent: Some pieces were overdone and a little dry, while others were pink and juicy.

Dessert worked well. A slice of mango cheesecake ($6), light and fluffy, was generously studded with chunks of mango, though the crust was a little thin and much too soft.

Royal Thai Bistro is an ample highlight in this wannabe urban ring-around-the-rosy village: It's not too bold, not too tame, and has just enough faux eclectic hipness to attract the well-retailed bohemian, the kind who would eat a spring roll called "Thai me up, roll me out" ($7) and smirk at the wordplay.

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