REVIEW: Thai Game (CLOSED)

In the two-plus decades since the phrase “Pacific Rim Cooking” was applied to the inspired pan-Asian creations of chefs like Roy Yamaguchi and Sam Choy, local restaurants answering to that brand have become legion. So have the possibilities for mixing and matching disparate cuisines under a single roof. Today, all’s fair for menu inclusion, from Filipino adobo to Samoan palusami and everything in between. Enter in this vein Mango Tree, Staten Island’s–and possibly tout New York’s–first Thai/Japanese (with an emphasis on sushi) hybrid.

Mango Tree is nestled among the storefronts on a quiet semi-industrialized block of Beach Street in Stapleton. Open a scant month, the restaurant holds court in a cozy bicameral space. The first room, the one to which you enter, houses a 5-seater sushi bar, where–as you would expect of any sushi restaurant worth its wasabi–a man with a sharp blade plies his craft to order. To your left is the dining room proper: nine crisply linened square tables, some set on the basis, all diffusely lighted by spotlights recessed in the ceiling. The walls have been traced back to their naked brick origins, treated to a warm coat of lacquer, and dotted with art–some ethnic, some western.

This interplay among near and distant cultures is picked up in the food, both in its presentation and ingredients lists. Take the tuna tataki ($7.95) from the Japanese side of the menu, a carpaccio of glistening raw tuna crisscrossed with Jackson Pollock-like dribbles of wasabi mayonnaise. Wisps of carrot and tomato dot the dish for color, discs of jalapeno for yin and cilantro for yang, a sprinkling of deep-fried panko for a surprising crunch. Tuna has the starring role again in tuna avocado salad ($7.95) a layered assemblage, this time of chunks of the fish and crescents of perfectly ripe avocado under a blizzard of mesclun. The greens, like the starring players, are dressed in a tangy, salty sauce of ginger and the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu. From the Thai side of the menu comes a signature mango salad ($6.50), a mound of soft, sweet slivers of the fruit interspersed with raw cashews, red onion, and avocado

You may if you are so inclined follow a more traditional Thai route, starting with satays of beef or chicken ($5.95), the skewered lengths of meat handsomely striped with grill marks, redolent of their sweet-tart marinade, nicely accented by the accompanying ground peanut dipping sauce. You won’t go wrong either with Thai shumai ($4.95), warming nuggets of seasoned minced chicken encased in dough wrappers whose delicacy attests to their being made in-house.

Sushi and hand rolls are available as first and main courses, the assorted fishes deftly tended, the rice firm. I found the spicy salmon roll ($4.50) especially intriguing as a study in texture–the silkiness of the fish juxtaposed against the crunch of fried panko–which is not to give short shrift to the flavor: the bite-size morsels are delicious.

If there is a national dish of Thailand it is arguably pad Thai ($7.95-$9.95). The version here is realized typically as a dense tangle of pleasantly sticky and vaguely sweet rice linguine, the semi-translucent strands dotted with bits of scrambled egg, crisp sprouts, peanuts, and the protein (shrimp, squid, chicken, beef) or non-protein (vegetable and tofu, vegetarian duck) of your choice. For color contrast, the dish is enclosed in a hedge of crisp verdant broccoli. The sauce in the red curry ($8.95-$11.95) artfully balances creaminess (courtesy of coconut milk) with heat (from Thai chilis). I sampled the shrimp version and was equally impressed by the size and tenderness of the crustacean. Listed under the heading “Special Dishes,” you will find duck tamarind ($17.95), Don’t pass it up. The duck arrives bronzed, hacked into cross-sectional slabs of parchment-crisp skin and succulent flesh, the dark, sweet sauce the ideal counterpoint to the rich meat.

Suppress the impulse to skip dessert. If you do, you’ll miss out on the fried banana ($5), crispy fritters encasing sweet logs of the fruit, drizzled with dark chocolate. You can elevate the dish to another level by ordering a scoop of the intensely creamy house-made ice cream ($5). Thai sticky rice with mango ($6) is a bit more exotic, almost gruel-like but pleasant.

At present, a wine and beer license is pending, but the restaurant invites you to bring your own wine or beer.

Mango Tree, 125-127 Beach Street (bet. St. Paul Avenue and Van Duzer Street), Staten Island, N.Y. (718) 981-0585. Open daily from noon to 10 p.m. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are accepted. www.themangotreestatenisland.com

 

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