Thai Palate Cuisine 

Atlanta really is a paradise for ethnic dining. This week I've visited two restaurants -- one Thai and one Mexican -- that crank up the quality of two of my favorite cuisines. Both are worth your immediate attention.

Thai Palate Cuisine (265 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-685-9988) has opened next to MF Sushi, in the complex that wraps itself about the temporarily closed Krispy Kreme donut shop. Like its Japanese neighbor, Thai Palate has a unique interior that is modeled after a child's playroom -- a very postmodern and grown-up one. Primary colors and geometric forms decorate the small dining room where a cobblestone wall, topped with orchids, hides the kitchen. It's casually glamorous and, lest you miss the playroom theme, the owners' young sons may come post themselves at your table and stare at you, smiling.

The menu is killer. Besides the Thai standards, you'll find some creative specials and quite a few Malaysian dishes. When I expressed my surprise at this aloud, Wayne, who loves maps the way other people love their dogs, hastily explained (drawing a map in the air) that Thailand and Malaysia border one another.

"Well," I said, "I know that but I've been to many Thai restaurants and do not recall ever going to one that chose to feature Malaysian food."

I repeated the same question to our server.

"It's because Thailand and Malaysia border one another," he said.

Wayne smirked. Fine. I'm happy it's on the menu. We only tried one Malaysian dish, sambal sotong -- impossibly tender rings of squid in a very spicy red sauce made with shrimp paste, served over raw cabbage. It was absolutely as good as similar dishes I've had at Penang, my fave for Malaysian, and plated with unusual artistry. All of the food is beautiful here, served on square white or cobalt plates.

I do worry if the restaurant will retain authenticity of flavors. At least three employees asked us if the food was "too spicy" and I heard two nearby diners complaining that they didn't want anything "too spicy."

I ordered a special -- not too spicy -- of two fried soft-shell crabs in a green curry sauce with sugar peas, red peppers, asparagus and basil, served with rice. Every ingredient glistened and the crabs were the best I've had this season.

To sample some of the restaurant's more traditional dishes we ordered an appetizer plate that included larb, fried cheese rolls and fish cake. Again, everything was fresh and skillfully seasoned.


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