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Dining Out

A second Brown Sugar hits sweet spot

By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / July 1, 2012
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Brown Sugar by the Sea

75 Water St., Newburyport

978-499-8424

brownsugarbythesea.com

Hours: Sunday, 12 to 9 p.m.; Monday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed daily 3 to 5 p.m.

All major credit cards accepted

Handicapped accessible

It’s probably unfair to review a restaurant that’s only been open for a few weeks, but locals have waited eagerly for Brown Sugar by the Sea to begin serving, and they’re already flocking inside for its fresh Thai cuisine.

A sister restaurant to the popular Brown Sugar Café in Boston, Brown Sugar by the Sea took over a striking, glass-walled space in the Tannery Marketplace previously occupied by another Thai restaurant. Renovations while the doors were closed include new colors, new furniture, and the installation of an eight-seat bar. The resulting look is sharp enough for an affordable date night, but still casual enough for a quick bite.

Our party of four adults and one child was unanimous in liking Brown Sugar’s vibrant and sometimes unusual flavors, which carried a healthy dose of spice where appropriate. You can get your favorite Thai standards here, or enjoy an interesting meal by avoiding them entirely.

The hit of the visit was the first dish to reach the table, Nua Prik Thai Nahm Jim ($8), an appetizer of grilled beef skewers with green chili sauce. The chunks of sirloin were well-marinated in fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, and other delicious things and served with an addictive, sour, and quite spicy sauce. I’d never had this before, and I’m looking forward to next time, when I won’t have to share it with the rest of the table.

Brown Sugar fresh rolls ($7) each contained the usual single shrimp with carrots and other vegetables, but with enlivening touches of basil and garlic, and a zingy sweet chili sauce for dipping. There was nothing dramatically different about them, but they were excellent.

Other Thai-restaurant staples also arrived in standard form but nicely done. The chicken satay appetizer ($8) easily passed muster with my wife, who is a stern judge of doneness regarding the meat on her skewers. Pad Thai ($8 lunch/$11 dinner) offered a heaping portion of rice noodles with chicken, shrimp, scallions, sprouts, and ground peanuts, the sauce a little zestier than usual. Basil chicken ($10/$13) offered enough chili heat to get a good sweat going, and without a special request.

The less familiar dishes again proved exceptional. The Yum Nua beef salad ($12, dinner only) was a lot like that beef appetizer, but instead of skewers the meat came nestled among lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers with another snappy, spicy, citrusy dressing. Green curry with calamari ($11/$14) was an unexpected choice by one of our group, but it too was a hit, with calamari rings, green beans, peppers, and other vegetables in a brightly flavored, coconut milk-based sauce.

There were a few minor glitches during our meal, understandable in a new restaurant. Pecking out items on the iPod touch ordering system seemed slower for our eager young server than pad and pen would have been. The satay arrived at the table without peanut sauce. But mixups were quickly corrected. It’s worth noting that hours and perhaps prices are still being tweaked.

As usual with Thai menus, many dishes come with a choice of protein (prices vary). There’s also a kid’s menu that the pad Thai-loving younger member of our party skipped. The bar offers beer, wine, and specialty cocktails; We chose Chang ($5), a pleasant if not especially distinctive Thai beer, with our meal.

We did not get to sample Brown Sugar’s special “on the run” lunch items, but we look forward to trying ones like the chicken green curry wrap ($7).

One surprising note at Brown Sugar by the Sea was the piano in the corner, where a serious-looking young man performs Thursdays through Saturdays. We were seated close by and feared that our conversation would be drowned out, but he played quite softly. Live background music is an amenity I never expected with my Thai food, and soft as it was, I can’t say it made much difference in my dining experience, although my companions liked it.

We’ll return very soon and make even more adventurous menu choices.

JOEL BROWN

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.

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