Sticking to Tradition

The Golden Room has a way of keeping the spirits happy

Whether you choose the chicken version or the shrimp, beware the Golden Room menu's definition of cup: anyplace other than Texas, this would be considered a bowl. Those with smaller appetites could make do with one as a meal. If used as a prelude to other dishes, one "cup" easily serves two. In keeping with Siamese culinary tradition, you could share samples family-style with the entire table. This is what co-owner Supapra Yooto and her cousin, Kay Soodjai, had in mind when they founded the restaurant 14 years ago. At the time, both women were Houston college students. Neither had business experience, though Soodjai's family was in the restaurant trade back in Bangkok, and she'd worked in restaurant kitchens here to help pay for school. But through luck and pluck, the cousins succeeded. With the help of family and friends in the kitchen, and the support of neighbors who happily spread the word, Yooto and Soodjai beat the jinx that closes more than eight out of ten new restaurants. Now Yooto, the graceful woman who greets Golden Room guests, is happy to offer suggestions to those wishing to try unfamiliar dishes.

Watch for stellar special entrees on the board that lists her featured items. The hand-written menu, located on a board just inside the entrance, often features strong, savory dishes with especially complex mixtures of flavors. One such is the King Pork, rich with well-trimmed meat that contrasts marvelously with the crunch of fresh snow peas and red peppers, and dressed with a savory sauce that features the anislike taste of Italian basil and the sharp-sweet taste of crisp shredded onion. I love spicy food, but the medium temperature King Pork was plenty hot for me. I found the hot version, ordered by a New Orleans-born friend with asbestos taste buds, to be so scorching that it obscured all flavor.

While they aren't featured specials, the Golden Room's splendid curries should carry a special warning that, if eaten, rapture might ensue. The green curry (which is actually pale yellow) starts off gently with the silky sweet taste of coconut milk and the surprising crunch of crisp bok choy. Then comes a hint of something pleasantly smoky. It's only when you swallow that the fresh green chiles manifest themselves in a delayed-action explosion of heat and flavor. Wow! Once again, medium is just about right. The hotter version is too hot; and the milder version lessens the complex effect by defusing the chile bomb.

The red curry is much less flammable. Built on a paste of dried red chiles instead of on the more powerful fresh peppers, it is more subtle as well as sweeter than the green, but still splendid with contrasting tastes and textures. It's a good transitional dish for those first venturing out from the safety of pad Thai.

Either curry shared with a table of friends on a stormy afternoon can be an unforgettable experience. I stand as witness. One rainy lunchtime recently, I watched a large table filled with oil-patchers, Brits and Aussies among them by the accents, who were downing Tsingtao beer and trashing the ways of Chinese government bureaucrats while they passed various entrees around the table. Suddenly, from amid the general racket of their overlapping conversations, came a clear West Texas twang: "Here. Try some of this curry with a shot of rice. It's damn good."

The Golden Room, 1209 Montrose Boulevard, 524-9614.

The Golden Room:
pad Thai, $7.95;
King Pork, $13.95;
mee krob, $4.95;
tom yum gai, $6.95;
red curry and green curry, $9.95 (beef or chicken), $11.95 (shrimp).

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