Thai cuisine is among the world's most exciting: It's colorful, dynamic, ebullient, in-your-face. It's a cuisine that doesn't shy away from intense flavors like chili paste and fermented fish sauce. Eating Thai is about trying centuries-old flavors of galanga, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro.
Thai Noodles operates out of an unassuming storefront in a Fitchburg mini-mall shared by a range of eateries - Subway, Barriques Market and Kickshaw. Knowing your own tastes, plus a little luck, can yield an exhilarating meal. An added incentive: It's all on the cheap.
The food of Thailand emphasizes light preparations with lots of fresh vegetables, often raw. A classic starter, spring rolls, is exemplary here: Super-thin but highly tensile rice paper is stuffed with a well-proportioned mix of glass noodles, shrimp, pork, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, lettuce and cucumber. Dipping the crisp combination of veggies into the attendant plum sauce is a life-affirming collision of taste and texture.
The soups of Thailand are similarly revelatory. A good tom kha is intense, sinus-clearing and fragrant; here the broth is invigorated by lemongrass, lime juice and chili paste. Chicken satay (colorful strips of seasoned chicken breast) comes with peanut sauce and is a quick way to indoctrinate anyone who "doesn't like Thai."
Triangle curry is another accessible deep-fried appetizer - mashed yams and carrots with shredded chicken and a sprinkle of onions wrapped in rice paper. Shrimp rolls, a neat row of cleaned crustaceans wrapped into packets, fried and served up for dipping in nam pla phrik (lime juice, chilies, minced garlic and fish sauce), get immediately scarfed.
Noodles, curries and "main dishes" are served over rice. Standby pad Thai (rice noodles with tofu and shrimp cabbage, bean sprouts, green onions and ground peanuts) is mellow, sweet and addictive. Squash and yams with red curry, Thai eggplant, red pepper, basil and bamboo shoots is bright in flavor, creating a tug-of-war of hotly competing tastes on your tongue - a real jewel.
Savoring a few bites of musamun, an Indian-style curry with coconut milk, potatoes, peanuts and onions, reveals hidden depths of coriander and roasted chilies in the sauce in a long and slowly developing afterburn.
Pad karee (shrimp, scallops, calamari, celery, red pepper, green onions, roasted chili paste and red karee powder) was, on the other hand, lifeless and dispiriting. Gaeng phed ped yang, roast duck in red curry, which I ordinarily like, was similarly off-putting. I found myself avoiding the slippery wedges of this gamy bird, instead eating spoonfuls of bamboo shoots, pineapple and tomato in a nice red curry with coconut milk sauce over rice.
The menu isn't too friendly to vegetarians, but a "create your own curry" option saves the day, and almost anything can be ordered with tofu. Vegans have fewer options, with coconut milk, fish sauce and shrimp paste common to many sauces. Table service is solid, but the spartan arrangement of Formica tables and a single plant is less than homey. This is primarily a takeout place. Beer, a common pairing to Thai food, isn't served on the premises.
There are only three desserts - but one of them is sweet rice and custard, and it's the perfect finisher to a Thai meal.