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The Gossiping Gourmet: Get the 'Royal' food tour of Thailand

February 23, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • The Royal Thai Snapper, includes batter fried snapper served with Thai spicy and sweet garlic chili sauce and Som Tom, a country Thai style raw green papaya salad with crushed peanuts at the Royal Thai Cuisine restaurant in Newport Beach.
The Royal Thai Snapper, includes batter fried snapper… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Royal Thai Cuisine in Newport Beach is a dressed up Thai restaurant. It has been open for 27 years, making it one of the oldest in Orange County. Another Royal Thai Cuisine is in Laguna Beach, at 1750 S. Coast Hwy.

The cuisine features foods from all regions of Thailand. There is marinated grilled chicken and green papaya salad from the province of Issan in the Northeast, salty sour curries from the North, more sophisticated Bangkok cookery from Central Thailand (most familiar to us) — with lots of noodles, stir-frys and a balance of spicy, sweet, hot and sour — and, finally, spicy and colorful Muslim-influenced foods from the South, with an emphasis on seafood and vegetables.

The large dining area is framed by a high-beamed ceiling, big semicircular windows at one end of the room and a wood-burning fireplace on the other, with walls adorned by mural-sized Thai paintings. Lots of greenery softens the space and a separate, attractive bar/lounge is next to the entry hall.

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We ordered the prix-fixe dinner during Newport Beach Restaurant Week, which offered a great variety of choices, including six curries and eight entrées. Crispy spring rolls and chicken satays were the appetizers.

The rolls were unusual in that the tasty filling was almost all finely minced chicken with just a bit of cabbage. The rice flour wrapper was crunchy without being greasy and the light sweet and sour dipping sauce was improved by the addition of heat from the sriracha sauce that we requested. Unfortunately, the very light glaze on the grilled satays didn't add any much-needed flavor to the rather dry meat. Even the peanut sauce was on the bland side.

We really loved the Tom Kah, a coconut milk soup. This staple of Thai cuisine is generally thicker, but we much preferred this thinner version with its distinct coconut flavor balanced by the delicate acidity of lime juice. The broth was chock full of plump straw mushrooms, chicken and cabbage.

Som Tom is one of our favorite salads. Made with unripe green papaya, this crunchy fruit is thinly shredded, dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, chili and sugar, then sprinkled with crushed peanuts. It provided a light, refreshing interlude before the main dish.

Royal Thai Snapper, a batter-fried filet of snapper, had a flavorful crust and tender moist flesh. It rested in sweet and spicy garlic chili sauce, adding another layer of flavor to this satisfying preparation.

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