What makes Thai cuisine such a tongue festival is the electrical intensity of the flavors, the stark textural contrasts, and the laser-like leanness of the ingredients. Sadly, far too few Thai or Thai-influenced restaurants pull this off. Most metroplex Thai excursions descend into plodding, viscous potpourris with only the occasional brisk snap of a snow pea to awaken the mouth.
Mango, a relatively new Thai spot in Plano, skirts some of these pitfalls, though not by much. But this is no reason to skip the place. Some of the food is quite good, and you can eat it with metal chopsticks instead of flatware. The sate plate ($7.95) -- skewered scraps of curry-infested chicken, pork, and beef -- is tender and succulent. The chunky peanut dipping sauce that accompanies it is smooth, slightly sweet, and well seasoned. Thai chicken salad ($6.95), a simple collection of baby greens with moist grilled chicken breast strips in a searing lemon vinaigrette, was as fresh and lively as it was hearty. And though the Thai barbecued chicken breast ($14.95) was blanketed with a gravy-like sauce made with yellow curry, the herbs and spices (lemongrass, chili, and cilantro) broke through and never wavered.
It's all served in a retro-futuristic setting that comes off like a vision of 2001 cast in 1975. Furnished in pastel mint green, teal, and pale orange plastic chairs, the dining room is bound by wavy plastic walls that loop and curl, forming a small booth on one end. Halogen sconces resembling tiny flattened satellite dishes dot the rippled surface. Blue eye shadow would not be out of place here.
Unfortunately, neither are examples of a dull, flat-footed culinary approach. Though ordered with medium heat levels (dishes can be prepared mild, medium, or spicy), most of the selections were barely spicy. The limp pad kee mow ($8.95), with minced chicken infiltrating crisp vegetables and wide rice noodles that had the consistency of glue, had a barely perceptible garlic presence, despite the prominent listing of the ingredient on the menu.
Gummy noodles also infested the garlic seafood (shrimp, calamari, scallops, and mussels, $12.95). But the mushy shrimp and the sponge-rubber scallops swimming in a near-flavorless puddle of brown sauce proved a much more significant distraction.
Chili-mint beef ($9.95) with bamboo shoots, bell pepper, and onion was striped with strips of stringy, washed-out meat.
Clean understatement made the vegetable tofu and udon soup ($7.95) one of the most successful selections. A light chicken broth with thick Japanese white noodles made the perfect culinary wallpaper for this big bowl of gently wilted spinach, crisp bok choy, and chewy slices of shiitake mushroom.
Mango service is energetically friendly, if a little inconsistently paced. But when you couple that with the clever disco-hip vision of the next century, you end up with a spot that, more often than not, transcends the shortcomings of the food.