Another door opens for tasty Thai fare
New digs, similar menu. That’s what greets patrons in the relocated Spice Thai restaurant in Melrose. The previous Thai Spice Kitchen location on Franklin Street is now reserved for takeout, while the new Spice of Melrose, which opened on Main Street this summer, offers a modest, but comfortable, storefront dining experience with warm beige walls accented by graceful tiles with leafy patterns and dark-wood tables.
Billed as “Spice: Fine Thai Dining of Melrose’’ on the takeout menu, the restaurant has an extensive selection of Asian standards ranging from scallion pancakes ($5.50) to seaweed salad ($5), General Gao chicken ($12.50), to duck choo chee ($17) and, of course, pad Thai (lunch $7.50, dinner $10). The prices are moderate and the service is earnest, if a bit overwhelmed when the restaurant is crowded, which it was on a recent Saturday night visit.
We started off with a choice that combines two of our favorite foods: edamame (boiled young soy beans) and dumplings. The presentation of the edamame shumai ($5.50), dumplings filled with edamame served with ginger soy sauce, was the most elegant of the night. The flavors of the dough and the edamame blended well but could have used a few more of the tasty beans.
Another highlight came with the sweet lime soup ($5), a duet of lime and basil in which neither overpowered the other but mingled brightly together in a fragrant and savory melody. We also tried the roasted duck noodle soup, ($8.50 lunch, $12 dinner) which was hearty, if a bit bland, with generous slices of duck in a clear broth with heaps of noodles.
None of the dishes we sampled were particularly distinctive, but all were flavorful and satisfying. Several were served a trifle on the cold side (see above note about the service being overwhelmed).
Pad Thai is always a favorite Thai dish, and we opted for the vegetarian tofu, ($7.50 lunch, $10 dinner), which was generous and rich, if on the sweet side. The Thai orange duck ($17) featured breaded duck meat swimming in a pool of orange sauce with vegetables. The sauce was tasty, although I wished it had penetrated the breading more to meld with the meat. Another filling and healthy choice was the Rama garden ($13) with crisp vegetables, grilled chicken, and peanut sauce served on the side.
A more royal treatment came with Three Kings ($16), a combination of shrimp, scallops, and squid in a light brown sauce that was both tangy and soothing accompaniment to the seafood.
Other popular dishes here include mango curry ($13) with chicken and vegetables in a yellow curry sauce, and spicy papaya salad ($14) with shredded green papaya, green beans, tomato, and grilled shrimp.
Those who seek that kick in the mouth from fiery ingredients may opt for the menu’s Mix and Match, in which chicken, beef, or pork ($7.50 lunch, $11 dinner), tofu or vegetable ($7.50, $10.50), shrimp or squid ($8, $13), and duck or scallop ($8, $15) is matched with ginger, basil, cashew nut, spicy bamboo shoot, or less spicy options. We sampled the tofu with the spicy basil sauce (which came with onion, pepper, mushroom and sweet peas). It delivered the requisite kick without a total knockout.
Despite the storefront’s high ceilings and large windows, the acoustics were conducive to conversation and the table spacing fostered a sense of intimacy.
The winning formula of the Franklin Street menu should do well in this more formal dinning setting. New England winter nights are tailor-made for that roast duck noodle soup or a fiery basil sauce.