The tiny sparkler, on the corner of a quiet street two blocks off West Putnam Avenue and near St. Roch's Church, is a Thai original. In an era when Thai dishes are often absorbed into fusion and pan-Asian menus, it is refreshing to find stand-alone authenticity.
From the outside, Little Thai Kitchen may be mistaken for a takeout spot. Inside, the gleaming lemon-yellow walls, white napery and crisp menus offer immediate reassurance to any skeptical visitor.
Once the freshly made dishes begin to appear, the reassurance swells to enthusiasm - at least that was my reaction on my first visit, seconded by an equally exuberant lunch a week later.
My guests and I, ardent Thai food enthusiasts all, eagerly awaited an order of larb, a favorite Thai starter, and the chef more than delivered. The fat-free ground beef salad came with a cascade of scallions, well-seasoned with lime juice, mint and rice powder, providing an indescribable edge to the dish. The byplay among the flavors and textures was pure Thai.
The cheerful waitress offered us a choice of hot, medium and mild seasonings. We chose hot and were not disappointed. The papaya salad was especially incendiary, a mix of shredded green papaya and carrots combined with a sprinkling of Thai chili peppers, green beans, tomato, garlic and peanuts.
A standout among several entree choices was the Thai green curry, a velvety coconut milk-based dish with green chilies, eggplant and green peppers; it was fierce and delicate at the same time. Pad Thai noodles laced with swirls of egg scrambles, bean sprouts, scallions, lime slices and fresh cilantro leaves was a fine rendering of the Thai classic.
I liked the flavor and sweet white meat of the tilapia in pla rad prik (crisp whole fish), though the fish was buried beneath a sauce with myriad vegetables, obliterating all crispness.
I had several of the restaurant's best dishes at lunch. This time the waitress did not ask for heat preferences, resulting in a mix of combustible dishes and mildly spiced ones. Thai soups are often deceptively fiery, because many are broths that look mild. I expected heat from the tom ka gai, but that delicious coconut chicken soup was gently seasoned, with only a scant whisper of spice.
Nua nam tok, a beef salad with red onions, lemon grass, tomato, lime and herbs, had enough chopped lettuce to damp down the heat. Tao hoo tord offered a pleasingly quiet contrast of flavors; the piping hot crisp-battered tofu triangles were served with sweet-spicy and peanut sauces to jazz up the bean curd's blandness.
As an entree, duck curry -perfectly cooked, tender duck segments (with slightly fatty but tasty crisp skin left on), red onions, pineapple, celery and red peppers - was first rate. Almost as peppy was spicy sambal shrimp, sharing the plate with a red chili sauce full of red and green peppers, onions, carrots, mushrooms and snow peas. The jumbo shrimp were perfectly undercooked, as I prefer them.
Desserts are limited. Rice with fresh mango slices made a refreshing finale - and was better than Thai coconut pudding.
Little Thai Kitchen does not yet have a liquor license, but guests are encouraged to bring their own wine or beer. There is no corkage fee and the staff is attentive about refills. On a humid day the sweet milky Thai iced tea made a cooling alternative to alcohol.
The new restaurant, though a little out of the way, is a find, offering fresh made-to-order Thai food at reasonable prices in a spotless, agreeable setting.
Little Thai Kitchen
21 St. Roch Avenue, Greenwich
ATMOSPHERE Tiny storefront with lemon-yellow walls and well spaced-tables for 20 at the most. Taped Thai background music.
NOISE LEVEL Conversational.
SERVICE Gracious, friendly, attentive and knowledgeable.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Larb, papaya salad, beef salad, tom ka gai soup, duck curry, tao hoo tord, Thai green curry with chicken, basil beef, shrimp pad Thai, spicy sambal shrimp.
PRICE RANGE Appetizers: $3.95 to $6.95. Lunch entrees: $6.95 to $8.95. Dinner entrees: $6.95 to $15.95. Desserts: $3.95 to $5.95.
CREDIT CARDS Most cards accepted.
HOURS Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.
RESERVATIONS Recommended on weekends.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY Street level; restrooms the same.
Reviewed by The Times July 17, 2005.
Ratings: Extraordinary, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Fair, Poor. Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration. Menu listings and prices are subject to change.