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Elegant space, classic Thai cuisine at Pom's

Source: Maine Sunday Telegram 10/15/06
N.L. English


Thai curries, intriguing Thai salads, and classics made with a light touch and attention to freshness, served in an elegant room.

SOUTH PORTLAND — Come here for fresh ingredients and clear flavors that make the Thai meals at Pom's Thai Restaurant refreshing and satisfying, but return because the chic room gives them a tranquility that isn't typical.

This restaurant practices a novel minimalism in its décor. A crystal chandelier that might augment good feng shui is in the entryway, but inside the second set of doors the mood is quiet and the lighting gentle. The one touch of ornament is a Thai dancer's elaborate crown, its gold curves rising to a thin pinnacle from its stand atop a wall in the back of the dining room.

The wine and cigar offerings to the Thai president, family and ancestors, behind the desk in the front of the restaurant, are set on a plain, handsome wood bracket.

Elsewhere, sage-gray walls and alabaster-like hanging lights over the dark wood tables keep the atmosphere quiet. Three oil paintings of Thai scenes add color, like the orange robes of "Boy Monk," all by Cape Elizabeth painter Etsuko Leeaphon.

The simple elegance visible in the interior repeats itself in the classic soup, Tom Kah, made with coconut milk, lemon grass, kaffir leaves, lime and galangal, a Thai ginger. Tart and aromatic, rich and slightly sweet from the coconut, this thin hot broth held both vegetables ($3.50) and seafood ($4.25), and in both cases was a delightful balance of spicy sourness and sweetness.

The seafood version had two pieces of overcooked squid, but the rest of the seafood was perfect, the scallop, shrimp and a large half shell with a plump orange mussel sitting on it all tender.

An appetizer of peanut and chicken dumplings called on the menu "steamed butterflies" ($5.95) seemed to have gone wrong, or perhaps I just don't care for it. Ground peanuts and sautéed chicken, with sugar or another sweetener, made up the heavy filling, but the more important issue was the wonton wrapper, which tasted pasty, as if it hadn't been steamed long enough.

Dinners posed no questions at all. I couldn't dissuade my companion from ordering her inevitable Pad Thai ($9.95), but the dish she was served was excellent, not sweetened heavily and very fresh. The tender rice noodles were given interest with ground peanuts, and scallions, and crunchy mung bean sprouts were served alongside.

My salmon cho chee ($15.95), served in the wide, flat bowl of upscale restaurants, was a wonderful presentation with its generous serving of red cho chee sauce, green beans, red pepper and two small filets of salmon, slightly overcooked.

A small bowl of brown rice I had requested came alongside ($1.95, as is jasmine white rice).

I cannot resist the curries of Thailand, green, yellow or red, depending on their ingredients, especially when a restaurant stints on the sugar. Cho chee is made with red chilies, garlic, shallots, lemongrass and galangal; it's intensely flavored with kaffir lime leaves, but has no basil. It's thicker than red curry with less coconut milk, according to restaurant owner Rattanaphorn Boobphachati, also known as Pom.

The owner said this restaurant, her newest business, opened in this new mall in March 2006; her other business, Thai Taste on Cottage Road, opened in June 2002.

The interior design of Pom's came together as its owner picked each item, following naturally from carpet to lighting. She has been in the restaurant business since 2000 and earned a master's degree in hotel and restaurant management from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I. The photograph to the left of the front desk shows the owner in Thailand looking exceptionally lovely.

Canola oil is used for frying at this restaurant, where an emphasis is on freshness; vegetables are crisp and not overcooked, and cornstarch is used rarely or lightly in the entrees that have the names of Chinese dishes.

Spicy possibilities abound on the menu, made according to a customer's preference, like a seafood dish called "Volcanic Eruption" ($15.95), with scallops, shrimp, squid and mussels (from New Zealand) in chili garlic sauce.

The curries and dishes from the a la carte list with sauces like lemon grass can be ordered with every possible meat and seafood or vegetarian preference. The spicy shrimp salad, Plar Koong ($9.95), and a mixed chicken and shrimp salad, Yum Woon Sen ($10.95), with bean thread noodles, make a strong argument for tart room temperature Thai food.

Our dessert was burning hot – for a moment. Kanom Tuay, Thai-style rice pudding ($3.95), was a quietly addictive experience, served in four tiny bowls. Each shallow bowl held a bottom layer of smooth, sweet, gelatinous starch, and on top of that was a layer of light smooth white cream, I believe coconut cream. The heated bowls made the contents more flavorful and soft. In the middle of the serving plate, a bit of canned whipped cream and a maraschino cherry was easily ignored.

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