By ELIZABETH KEYSER
Special To CTNow
March 20, 2014
If you've decried the Americanization of Thai food, the downgrade of a bold cuisine of sweet, sour and spicy flavors into a sweet, timid fax, get in your car and drive to Bridgeport. There's a new family-run restaurant that's drawing Thai people for authentic dishes such as boat noodles, red curry fish custard and mussel pancakes.
Four months old, in a residential neighborhood off North Avenue, RuuThai has a simple storefront that's been cheerfully decorated with painted accents in bright orange and lime green, and cute, girly stencils of flowers and swirly lines. The décor is much like the friendly, sweet spirit of Dif McGeough, manager, waitress and sometime delivery person. Born in Thailand but raised in the United States, she bridges her dual homelands with humor.
Ruuthai has four tables and a counter, and they do a lot of take-out. But I like to eat there, sitting at the restaurant's plastic, faux-lace clad tables, with their jars of condiments. And Ruuthai is a friendly place, with family members asking if we're enjoying our meal. The head chef is Def Ruangsikul, Dif's mother.
And we are enjoying our meal. Red curry fish mousse, steamed in cups fashioned from banana leaves, is light-textured and lively. It's spicy and rich with coconut milk. We've never had this dish before, and we love it.
Boat noodles come in a big bowl of pork broth seasoned with an indeterminable blend of pungent, garlicky flavors. Fresh basil, cilantro, scallions, and meat – a choice of beef or pork and sausage – crest the top of the dark broth. We dip our chopsticks in and pull up silky, thin rice noodles and crunchy bean sprouts.
Larb, minced chicken salad, is mouth-puckering, sparkling with that distinctive Thai hit of spice and freshness. Chopped mint, lemongrass, red onion, mixed with the chicken and toasted rice powder, dressed in a light, temperature-raising sweet and sour vinaigrette is served with iceberg lettuce. It crunches beneath the sprightly sauce.
Ruuthai's drunken noodles are the spiciest I've ever had. The wide noodles were soft and elastic, enjoyably chewy and smoky-sweet. They left us exclaiming, "This is the best Thai food we've had north of Queens."
The mussel pancake was light and crisp, dotted with mussels and served over crunchy, pickled bean sprouts. The pancake was greasy but tasty. The frying oil wasn't hot enough, but we did eat the whole thing, and we loved the bean sprouts.
Thai desserts are, to Americans, weird. Dev laughs, and leads us to the refrigerator case. A banana-leaf-wrapped mini-pyramid reveals a tapioca wrapper around minced, salty-sweet pork. Another banana-leaf packet reveals a blanket of sticky rice enrobing caramelized banana. The textures and salty-sweet flavors are intriguing.
Another thing? This place is a deal: It's BYOB, entrees are $8, appetizers are $5 and desserts are $4.
Ruuthai's Kitchen is at 648 Beechwood Ave., Bridgeport. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Information: 475-282-4600 and www.ruuthaiskitchen.com
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