Three-Way Thai 

How much spice can Carytown handle?

For starters, Mom's Siam is moving a block east, to Colonial and Cary, and converting its menu and decor to suit a more upscale clientele. That may create just enough room on the strip for the Thai Diner family's new Thai Curry House to operate without stepping on anyone's toes, especially their own. Factor in the bumping drum-and-bass dance parties in the club upstairs at this newest edition, and it might prove to be a success.

At first glance, the menu at Thai Curry House looks typical, and on my first few visits I didn't stray too far from my favorites. The spicy noodle soup (Thai-hot with chicken and shrimp galore) steamed my allergies away, both with its heat and its spice. My wife offered high praise for her pad Thai, and we both mmmed and aaahed over the crispy rocket shrimp served in a martini glass with wonton chips, spicy pineapple sauce and a delicious rendition of green papaya salad, which was loaded with shrimp and tingling with chili-lime dressing. But why savor these familiar dishes in cramped quarters among fake plants and lighting that seems dingy rather than soft when our usual Thai haunts are a stone's throw away? Because of the curry.

Curry is one of those culinary catchall terms that describe a wide range of preparations from a continent with many cultures. In India, curries are usually dry spice rubs that are applied before roasting or grilling. The recipes vary from region to region and village to village. There are thousands of variations on Madras curry alone. In Southeast Asia, and Thailand in particular, curries are prepared by pan-roasting chili peppers and other ingredients and mashing them into a paste that is added to various sauces in differing amounts to myriad effect, in both heat and flavor.

There's no disappointment in any of the authentic curries that Thai Curry House offers. Flavors range from rich and creamy massaman curry, which can be ordered without so much heat and still be quite tasty, to the country-style junkle curry, which pulses with piquant broth edged with basil. The standard rainbow of traditional curries — yellow, green and red — is also represented. My wife, who likes her Thai on the mild side, delighted in the yellow curry with chicken, in which the coconut milk and sweet pineapple offset the inherent heat of the curry itself. The roasted duck curry (which tops the price range at $12.95) was decadent. Nicely roasted breast meat swimming in coconut milk enlivened with basil and red curry, and paired with pineapple and litchi fruit, made for a complex and deeply satisfying gastronomic excursion. This dish may be reason enough to break from tradition at the other places and eat here before a show at the Byrd.

It seems Carytown is making room for three Thai joints; all appear to be doing brisk business. The addition of a house dedicated to the art of curry seems, to my mind, cause for celebration — one involving steaming platters, steaming foreheads and sweating pitchers of limeade. S

Thai Curry House ($)
3129 W. Cary St.
Monday-Friday: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Saturday: Noon-10 p.m.
Closed Sundays.

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