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June 2004 Benjarong

Thai art and elegant carved wooden screens take these modern Thai dining rooms into nice-enough-for-a-date territory. But nice doesn't mean tame—and the kitchen doesn't hold back on chili power. Thai salads and curries are as authentic as you'll find at traditional mom-and-pop places. And there's a bonus: more artful plates and better cuts of meat. Notable are red duck curry and green curry with a choice of meats and seafood. Both perfectly balance the fire of chilies with the sweetness of coconut. Dumplings fat with chives, an occasional special, are not one-biters—two or three is more like it. And spring rolls packed with chicken and carrots are as crisp as they get.

Noodle dishes like savory pad Thai and spicy see eew, both available with assorted meats and seafood, are jumbles of texture and flavor. Deep-fried duck may sound like a grease fest, but it's the dish everyone will want a second go at. Thai beers, colorful fresh-fruit daiquiris, and Thai coffee and Thai iced tea are the drinks of choice. The last two are sweet enough to pass for dessert if sticky rice with mango fails to entice.

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