Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, July 11, 2002
Fit to beThai-ed

Schizophrenic service and food makes a date with Ayuttaya a hit-or-miss experience.


Ayuttaya Thai Cuisine 3701 S Cooper St, Arlington. 817-784-0799. Mon-Thu 11am-2:30pm; 4:30-9:30pm. Fri 11am-2:30pm; 4:30-10:30pm. Sat 11am-10:30pm. Sun Noon-9pm. DC, D, MC, V.

on’t do lunch at Ayuttaya, but definitely do dinner. At mid-day, the lunch items we sampled lacked verve and freshness. Dinner, just four days later, was a marvel of Thai cuisine. I can’t absolutely explain the disparity, but I can offer conjecture: Either the lunch chef needs a refresher course in freshness or the restaurant needs an attitude adjustment.

On both visits, the server did a poor job of keeping the desires of the kitchen out of the dining room. At lunch, we wanted a single order of sweet sticky rice with mango. The server pushed us to order one each because the cook “doesn’t like to make just one serving at a time.” At dinner, the server steered us away from Gai Yaang Ayuttaya appetizer (the chef’s special marinated chicken) because the cook made it as a whole chicken. My guest and I were asked if we wanted the whole chicken — the implication was that the price would be double.

The panang curry with beef lunch special was limp and dwarfed by the mound of jasmine rice. It had strips of beef flank steak, peppers, and lots of sweet coconut milk but not a lot of curry or lime. The pad Thai tasted and looked like heated up leftovers. It was mushy, and the unique flavors of lime, nam pla (fish sauce), peanut, scallion, and egg were mashed together.

The Thai spring rolls tasted tired and were difficult to swallow. Large rolls were loosely stuffed with sausage, watery cucumber, and bean sprouts; they fell apart when grasped. Equally unusual was the fried beef jerky. Sinuous ropes of beef were dried then deep-fried, resulting in a chewy, thin, cumbersome appetizer. And the double order of sweet sticky rice with mango would have been perfect if the mango had been ripe.

But dinner at Ayuttaya was so good it could have been coming from an entirely different restaurant.

The shrimp wrap appetizer had whole shrimp and ground pork wrapped in rice paper, and it was deep-fried. These wraps looked like eight chubby fingers, and were only lightly fried (thankfully) and tasted freshly made.

The squid salad was equally fresh and lovely to behold. Scored squid was steamed, cooled, and served on a bed of shredded greens, cucumber, pepper, and tomato. The salad was served with a blend of nam pla and light soy sauce.

We were besotted by the drunken noodles: wide rice noodles stir-fried with hot peppers, green peppers, tomato, and beef. The true name of the dish, according to Lonely Planet’s World Food: Thailand, is “drunkard’s fried noodles” because of the sobering effect of chiles. It was so fresh that each bite showcased the hot chiles, sweet basil, and soft noodles.

Salmon in curry was another pleasant surprise. Four vertical slices from a huge salmon steak had been de-boned, skinned, and deep-fried. Frying sealed the salmon flavor within a thick crust. The curry that supported the fish was a powerful rendition of red panang curry. It was spiked with lime leaves and kaffir lime, a pungent citrus that is nearly inedible raw but delightful in curry. The gorgeous fish-shaped platter also held red and green peppers and quartered tomatoes. The curry sauce stuck to the fish’s fried crust yet never overpowered the salmon.

The restaurant has a lot to learn about the heat index. The menu offers three degrees: one, two, and Thai hot (three). We ordered the drunken noodles Thai hot and the salmon level two. Neither was hot enough to prevent my chili-headed guest from dipping into the condiment dish of phrik pon (dried, ground red chili peppers). Thai hot is usually too hot for people without cast-iron stomachs, but if a person is courageous enough to order heat the kitchen should comply. If you like it that way, communicate your wishes very clearly to the server.

Ayuttaya was a kingdom in the north of Thailand that existed for more than 400 years before being conquered by the Burmese in 1767. It’s a grand name for a restaurant that hides meekly in a strip mall that is almost invisible from the street.

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