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Power Thai

Tremont gets a kick from Ty Fun Bistro.

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Typhoon of flavor: Mild massaman (front) and spicy green curries. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Typhoon of flavor: Mild massaman (front) and spicy green curries.

Last time we occupied a table in this tiny Tremont space, back when it was known as the Flying Pig Barbecue Company, we felt like the loneliest diners in town. On two winter visits, we had the folksy, kitsch-filled joint to ourselves as we chowed in almost utter silence.

But on this summery Saturday evening, when the scents of coconut milk and gingery galanga filled the air? The mere process of jostling our way to the restroom, through the happy diners crowded around every table, proved a test of our agility and stamina.

How times change -- assuming you give the people what they want, that is. In the case of the recently opened Ty Fun, what the people want is well-prepared Thai food, beautifully presented, reasonably priced, and enjoyed in a room that's now as elegant and spare as it was previously homespun and cluttered.

Does Ty Fun (pronounced typhoon) serve the best Thai food in the region? If the few minor slips we encountered are a fair measure, perhaps not. But does it provide the most hip, handsome, and upscale setting among Thai eateries? Undoubtedly it does.

Credit hairdresser and Bangkok native Sunny Tint with the stunning transformation. A passionate home chef and son of restaurateurs, Tint jumped at the opportunity to launch a small place of his own. And judging by the crowds that have flocked here since his late-June opening, he probably could have filled a space twice as large.

But while the restaurant's modest size almost inevitably translates into cramped seating and lots of noise, the decor is relentlessly serene, with candlelight, teak-carved Buddhas, and live, long-stemmed orchids tracing graceful arcs against a trio of tall windows.

Inside their saffron-colored shades, contemporary pendant lights throw dramatic puddles of light onto dark wooden tabletops set with bamboo placemats, wood-handled flatware, and intricately folded cloth napkins. Even the well-organized illustrated menu is a knockout, printed on heavy stock and tucked inside a hefty, scrollwork-covered binder.

While not as massive as some other Southeast Asian restaurants, Ty Fun's menu hits all the high points, with everything from buttery chicken satay to a delightful take on pad Thai. (A second menu includes dozens of appetizers, soups, salads, and entrées suitable for vegetarians and vegans.)

As befits traditional Thai cuisine, flavors are generally bold, but subtly nuanced, with a focus on the well-balanced interplay of sweet, sour, salty, and fiery elements. At its best, as in the tom kha kai -- a creamy chicken soup featuring a tasty tug-of-war between coconut milk, lemongrass, and hot galanga -- the resulting harmonies seem worthy of an angelic choir. But at its weakest, as in a vegetarian toss of tofu, steamed veggies, and a heavy-handed dose of oily sauce, the kitchen can seem just a trifle tone-deaf.

Mee grob (a crunchy nest of fried noodles, pickled garlic, bean sprouts, and shrimp, held together with a sticky sweet-and-sour sauce) probably went overboard on the sweetness, begging comparisons to popcorn balls and Rice Krispies treats. We've also had somewhat better versions of ped grob, a popular roast duck entrée. No complaint about the robust portion size or the fowl's delectably crunchy skin; but the meat itself seemed overcooked and chewy. Fortunately, the other elements of the dish -- a toss of perfectly stir-fried pea pods, green beans, zucchini, and carrots; a tumble of crisply fried noodles; and a slather of sweat-inducing garlic, chile pepper, and tamarind sauce -- saved the day.

(Incidentally, while the menu advises that all dishes can be prepared from mild to fiery, we rarely found a correlation between what we requested and where the dish ultimately landed on the heat index.)

On the other hand, the kitchen scored big with the whole red snapper, lightly battered and deep-fried, and served with a choice of savory sauces. We picked pla preow whan, a tangy sweet-and-sour version goosed with onion, ginger, tomato, scallion, and bits of juicy pineapple. For more squeamish guests, Tint will gladly see to it that the snapper's head is removed before serving.

Other high points included a well-balanced version of mild massaman curry, with coconut milk, sweet spices, chicken, and potato; and a lively, complex take on gang keow whan, a spicy green curry that resonated with overtones of strong, minty basil.

Adding immensely to the pleasure was the artful presentation, replete with vegetable roses, scallion brushes, and finely shredded beds of colorful cabbage. Even the fragrant jasmine rice got the artist's touch, one night formed into a tidy cylinder topped with a tangle of noodles, another night coaxed into the shape of a plump little heart.

Ty Fun lacks a liquor license, but staffers are quick to provide stemware and a corkscrew for BYOBers. To best accompany the cuisine, bring along a dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer, or even a Sauvignon Blanc, or try to snare a six-pack of Singha, Thailand's fragrant, hoppy pale lager.

Then again, Thai-style iced tea or iced coffee helped soothe our well-exercised palates. They're a breath of fresh air -- like everything else about Ty Fun.

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