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.
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.
Our big disappointment came with the Thai Chicken Flame, a specialty dish we have tasted many times and usually love. This is the classic Issan barbecued chicken, brushed with a tasty spice mixture, but unfortunately it was sorely overcooked, so much so that the dry meat was hardly edible. The dipping sauce couldn't do enough to save it.
Much better was Paht Thai, the most well-known noodle dish from Thailand. There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks. Royal Thai served it as a side dish with our entrées. It is made with flat Chantaboon rice noodles, stir-fried in a delicately spicy, sweet and sour sauce with bits of egg, crushed peanuts and mung bean sprouts. If ordered as a main dish it comes with chicken, while shrimp maybe added for an additional $1. These fettuccine–sized noodles had a good chewy texture and were dressed with just the right amount of sauce. (Too often this classic is weighed down with sauce and the noodles are gummy.)
Desserts include ice cream, banana flambé and New York cheesecake, fresh lychees, and mango with sticky rice and coconut milk (in season). We found both the coconut and green tea ice creams to have suffered from a serious case of refrigerator burn.
One of the special features of Royal Thai is their cooking classes, which they have been offering for many years. Go to their website for the current class schedule. Newport Beach residents also have the convenience of free delivery for orders above $20.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royal Thai Cuisine
Address: 4001 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; Dinner, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Prices: Appetizers: $6.95-$12.95; Entrées: $9.95-$22.95; Desserts: $3.95-$5.95
Wine: Bottles: $17-$165; By the glass: $5.95-$8.50; Corkage Fee: $10
Information: (949) 645-8424 royalthaicuisine.com