Some like it hot and relish the sensory assault that Thai food offers -- spicy, sweet, sour, salty -- sometimes all in one dish. Luckily, diners who prefer less vivid seasoning can request a milder version of the hottest dishes or choose some of the Cantonese-style offerings at Rincome Thai Cuisine.
The recently opened Thai restaurant, which offers good dining at moderate prices, replaces the long-established Sorabol Korean restaurant at the corner of Highland Street and Columbia Pike, at the front of the Cherry Blossom Inn motel. The decor has changed little from Sorabol days. The airy curtains and Thai pictures are nice additions to an already comfortable dining room and separate bar area.
When the waitress recites the daily specials, make it a point to ask which dishes are hot and spicy. We didn't ask about the soup of the day and were surprised to find the oxtail soup to be extremely spicy. It was a big hit with one person in our party but far too hot for another. The beefy tail joints are simmered overnight until the meat is tender. Fresh lemon juice and vegetables are added, but it's the powerful red Thai peppers (now grown in Florida, among other places) that put the heat up into the stratosphere.
Two of the other soups (tom yum kung and tom yum talay) listed on the menu as hot and spicy are not as intensely fiery. Both are delicious seafood soups -- one with shrimp, the other with shrimp, squid and scallops -- made from the same chicken broth base, tart with lemon grass and lime juice. A small amount of the sweet and spicy Thai paste, namprik pao, gives these soups a pleasant, added kick.
While the Thai soups are an exciting combination of seasonings and flavors, the appetizers can be less enchanting. The Rincome flaming tray (for two) includes four of the nine appetizers and, at $7.95, would be a good buy if the offerings were more successful. The pork and beef satay, for example, lacked flavor, and the accompanying peanut sauce was overly sweet and gummy. Somewhat better were the two large, tasty spring rolls that, however, were slightly greasy.
Another appetizer, offered as a special one evening, was a generous order of mussels served in an excellent, spicy garlic sauce with basil and lemon grass. The mussels, however, tasted slightly fishy. Also, be advised that the dipping sauce for the mussels packs a wallop. An unequivocal success and highly recommended is the appetizer hoy jow. Six balls of shredded crab meat, minced pork and scallions, wrapped in paper-thin bean curd skin, fried until crisp, are served with a dip of syrupy plum sauce.
The entrees are more consistent in quality and generally quite good. For a spicy dish, choose either chicken, beef, pork or squid prepared with fresh, small-leafed basil and sliced green hot finger peppers. The seafood combination, also listed as spicy, was comparatively mild, with tender shellfish and squid plus carrots, green beans, broccoli and baby corn.
A similar assortment of seafood and vegetables without the Thai hot sauce is the seafood delight, sizzling dramatically as it is poured onto a scorching hot serving tray. Without the drama, but still delicious, the grilled chicken Thai style is very moist, slightly sweet and garlicky. The half chicken is whacked, bones and all, into finger food chunks. The red dipping sauce that accompanies the chicken is sweeter than the very fiery sauce that is served with the mussels. When asked about the difference in sauces, our waitress brought us a third sauce to try -- a compromise between the two.
If you feel inspired to experiment with Thai seasonings, order a noodle dish such as pad Thai and ask for a condiment tray on the side containing crushed red peppers (hot), fish sauce (salty) and vinegar (sour), and check to see that there are sugar bags (sweet) on the table. Now create your own four seasons sauce. While flavor fixings can be fun, the pad Thai noodles are fine as is -- a soothing combination of sauteed rice noodles, topped with five large shrimp and a combination of ingredients reminiscent of egg foo yung.
The sauteed beef with broccoli in brown gravy was undistinguished. A small amount of MSG is used in stir-frying, but it will be omitted on request.
The only items over $10 are the four fish entrees marked "seasonal." On a recent visit we sampled pla lad prig ($12.95) made with fresh flounder. The whole fish is deep-fried, which seals the juices inside a light batter crust. A spicy garlic sauce is poured over the fish, and the result is a winning combination of taste and texture sensations.
The desserts are limited primarily to a few ice creams, but the home style Thai custard, served warm over sticky rice, is a soothing antidote to overstimulated taste buds.
Rincome Thai Cuisine is worth a visit not only for its generally good food, but also for the relaxing atmosphere and attentive service -- a welcome spot to unwind with friends.