What's most surprising about Thai Tango is not the food, or the décor, or how snazzy the logo looks in lights illuminating its own little corner of a strip mall still under construction. It's how far the place is from Dallas. Compost heaps and dung berms aside, when I think of Flower Mound, I think of a place within a mud clod's toss of Dallas, somewhere near the armpit of Farmers Branch and the crotch of Coppell. (OK, maybe that's a little juvenile. But look at the map and tell me if that little Irving Tendril near North Lake isn't threatening to scratch Coppell's naughty bits.)
Fact is, Flower Mound is a bedroom boondock, one with a rate of expansion so brisk it slapped growth restrictions on itself. So why bring Thai food here, a town that feels so far north of Dallas it could be the subject of a Merle Haggard tune? "Flower Mound needs attractive restaurants," says Thai Tango owner Louis Conti, who also operates a computer-supply business. "A lot of our customers were tired of driving to Plano or Dallas for dinner." It's interesting to note that those up north feel just as fidgety about driving south as the rest of us feel about leaving the limits of Dallas' urban gravitational pull, which ends at LBJ.
Yet once you leave that orbit, you can land in Flower Mound and find the intricacies of upscale Thai cuisine, intricacies similar to those you can find closer to home. In Plano for instance. Thai Tango has a thrilling array of Thai dishes as well as Thai mutts imbued with New American ticks and twitches, which smell like fusion if your nose doesn't get too out of joint from using worn-out nuclear physics terminology to describe culinary mutants. For example, Thai Tango offers filet mignon in a pinot noir shrimp sauce and a T-bone steak and jumbo shrimp in a spicy panang sauce--dishes III Forks might serve if there were a gold Buddha atop that tower instead of a gold-leafed dome.
But even when it isn't frothing with New American steakhouse sluice, Thai Tango is tasty. Ample too, enough to fill a steak-stretched Texas gut. The food is laid out attractively on plates in a range of colors and shapes to dazzle the most fickle toddler. Which evidently one did at the next table over, where a little tyke smashed a colorful plate upon the glass tabletop, breaking off the corner at such a vicious angle it caused a yearning for pad Thai with sutures. But they didn't have that. So we ordered sprout-cilantro-infested crispy rolls "hugged" in romaine lettuce. Four long thin brittle scrolls, with a single fried shrimp on top, were nestled near an arrangement of greens. The rolls were crisp and tasty, with a broad flavor profile to keep it aloft in the mouth. Mint-basil spring rolls, sheathed in a rice paper wrapper that flirted dangerously with gumminess, respired their basil-mint herbal breath easily, aromatizing the shrimp and glass noodles wrapped tightly in the core. The freshness erupted effortlessly, and the cleanly brisk vinegar sauce lent zest to the basic blandness of the rolls, kicking them into a palatable balance.
Flaunting balance with equal deftness was the hot sour soup, an elegant and brisk bowl with fresh mushrooms, kafir lime, celery, and tomato. The broth frothed with tang and modest spice as it floated succulent coils of shrimp.
Conti says his main ambition with Thai Tango was the creation of an upscale Thai restaurant in the heart of this blossom heap. To that end, he enlisted Dallas contractor and metallurgic sculptor (and brother-in-law) Santiago Peña, perhaps the most talented blow-torch jockey in the metroplex. But he not only let Peña cut and bend a few strips of steel, he let Peña have his way with the whole place. "We gave him full rein," Conti says. "Usually he's kept in a shell, and we let him go loose." The result is a space carved with a provocative array of curves and angles. The bar sweeps, and the walls surrounding a private dining area curve into glass plates sheltered with metallic mesh curtains.
Thai Tango is drenched in sienna with murals and sconces cut out of metal. The ceiling is covered with a series of overlapping "kites," disks, and square panel frames over which silk is stretched. These panels must serve as dampers to the noise, because this dining room is a precarious battery of hard surfaces, yet the decibel level never seems to get out of hand.
The food is a bit quieter than you might imagine too. It doesn't have the searing clarity the very best Thai food flashes. But that doesn't mean Thai Tango cuisine isn't good. It just means it's in Flower Mound, which perhaps is more amenable to blunted culinary barbs.
The most disappointing item sampled on the menu was the wild rice noodles with broccoli bean sprouts and beef (the dish comes with a choice of chicken, beef, pork, or tofu). The dark soy sauce was smooth and flush with rich unctuousness, and the plant matter was crisp. But the beef, posturing like shavings of cardboard soaked in 30-weight, was dry and tough. Even tofu would have been a better insertion than this cattle.
But really, that was the only appreciable stumble. Spicy basil fried rice with chicken, carrots, tomato, scallions, and red and green bell peppers was a flourish of well-balanced flavors, even if the chicken chunks were a little parched.
Succulence was manifest in the passion sea scallops in sweet ginger sauce. The meaty scallops were tender, firm, and elegant with a slight undertone of spice that played footsie with the natural sea-washed sweetness. Lemon-pepper sake shrimp traveled in the same rut, successfully flashing lush, fleshy, but tight twines of meat planted next to a mound of spicy basil fried rice that was separate and tender.
In light of the general success of the food, it's strange the wine list seems so disconnected from the menu. Even though Thai Tango's flavors are perhaps not as intense as those found in a traditional Thai restaurant, they are nonetheless more cogent than the typical fusion or New American fare. Yet the list is virtually all chardonnays, merlots, and cabernet sauvignons, when this food screams for high-acid reds like Beaujolais or barbera and whites such as sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, Pinot blanc, or pinot Gris--wines that won't get flattened with a prick of head or the tangy substrates generated by kaffir lime and lemon grass. The wine list needs a reworking.
But virtually nothing else does. The service is relatively tight and attentive, the food is ample and served in visually arresting compositions with flavors that are, for the most part, taut, well-composed, and enjoyable. It won't knock your socks off, but then again socks are a good thing to have on when making a trek from Dallas to the Mound. Maybe extra if you're headed to Muskogee.
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