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VALLEY LIFE | restaurant review

Fiery Spice

Chicken on fire is one of many authentic and tasty dishes at Thai Ayuthaya.

November 10, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thai Ayuthaya, formerly known as Thai 50, has the usual suburban Thai look: photos of the Thai royal family, glass-topped tables, artificial potted palms and one of those running water rock fountains.

The setting may be unremarkable, but not the cooking, which is mostly authentic. Even the few dishes that have been dumbed down tend to be good.

Chicken on fire is this restaurant's version of Thai barbecued chicken, and it may be the best on the street. (Four of us fought over it until we got smart and went for a second order.) The reddish-brown crust is almost pure spice, and the color penetrates halfway to the bone.

For some reason it's listed on the appetizer section of the menu. But have it with som tam (a raw green papaya salad laced with dried shrimp and fiery prik khi nu peppers) and a bowl of aromatic Thai rice, and you've got yourself a great, authentic Thai meal.

There is a terrific roasted duck salad, the greens drenched in a dressing redolent of lemon grass and mint, the crisp roasted pieces of duck rubbed with a smoky curry paste. Larb is ground meat mixed with rice powder and peppers, and the meat can be either pork, chicken or beef. We had the beef larb, and it was good, though dominated by a healthy dose of rice vinegar.

There are close to 100 items on this menu and all the major Thai categories are covered reasonably well. Most of the curries--red, green, yellow and panang--are available with a choice of meat. We tried kaeng musmun, a relatively mild beef curry made with peanuts, potatoes and a blast of coconut milk.

A good vegetable dish is green beans with red curry paste (#36 on the menu). I like to add shrimp to this dish.

On the noodle section of the menu there is a rather sugary pad Thai and an interesting choice called pad kee mow: flat noodles with green peppers and mint leaves. Another dish I'd order again is kai koow: fried flat rice noodles mixed with squid, chicken, fried eggs and crushed peanuts.

Only two items failed to please us. One was muk kra tiem, stir-fried pieces of squid coated with a thick, grainy brown sauce with a strangely acrid taste. The other was that Thai standby, spicy clams. For some reason, the little mollusks were quite tough.

This is a friendly, agreeable place and the kitchen isn't afraid to turn up the heat when a customer requests it.

BE THERE

Thai Ayuthaya, 18818 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday-Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; closed Tuesday. Street parking. Beer and wine only. American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner for two, $25-$37. Suggested dishes: chicken on fire, $6.25; som tam, $6.25; kai koow, $6.25; green beans with shrimp, $6.95. Call (818) 881-4909.

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