The ugly green building on U.S. 1 may be empty, but some of the Thai food that South Miamians so loved for three decades at the Siam Lotus Room can be found at the pleasant Atchanas East West Grill in Coconut Groves Mutiny Hotel.Bangkok-born owner Atchana Capellinis ambitions are limited by the tiny kitchen and the fact that she is turning out three meals a day plus room service, but its a start. (Actually, it is a super spot for breakfast, too. As the name suggests, she is also turning out American fare like New York strip steak, Caesar salad and cheeseburgers.) The tight quarters may have shrunk the menu and staff (our young waiter was so friendly we wanted to invite him home), but the lush poolside dining area with a dozen teak tables feels grand. We didnt get wet, but we did get down to business with cool rice-paper spring rolls stuffed with fresh lettuce and carrots in a chili dipping sauce. Steaming edamame, crunchy egg rolls and moist and tender chicken satay skewers with a rich peanut dipping sauce are also satisfying if not exciting. Of the small selection of starters, complexly flavored chicken dumplings served with a sweet soy-based chili sauce are the best choice. Main courses are consistently more satisfying, especially if you order the stunning whole, crispy chili snapper, lacquered head to tailfin with a zippy sweet chili garlic sauce. They will fillet it if you ask, but we enjoyed picking at the bones and cheeks and licking fingers along the way. It is definitely big enough to share with a steaming bowl of white rice. The comfort-food standby pad Thai is also done well with its silky noodles and fresh array of flavors including snappy bean sprouts and nicely roasted peanuts. And curries simple, rustic, home-style and hearty are welcome on these chilly nights. We sampled a pumpkin-yellow version thick with coconut milk and tender strips of white chicken meat as well as a livelier green curry with shrimp. The best, though, was the confetti of fresh vegetables in the red, chili-flecked scorcher. An always-available special, the crispy roast duck, is hefty, almost pot roast-like, covered with slivered carrots, broccoli, rough-cut cabbage, celery, peas, cashews and pineapple but lacking finesse and that exhilarating crackling skin that is an art to perfect. The tightly edited wine list includes nice opportunities to match the fiery flavors, including an Alsatian gewürztraminer, a few generic Italian pinot grigios and mostly California reds. On paper, desserts might look like the usual lineup, but Id drive an hour for Atchanas heavenly Thai donuts. The mornings buttermilk biscuit batter is gently fried into greaseless, plum-sized Os that are puffy and ever-so-lightly doughy, served with a condensed milk and roasted peanut dipping sauce. For now, the sweet and surprising Atchanas is taking it slow, but give it time and perhaps the whole cadre of Thai chefs will be back in the kitchen turning out more (and more authentic) dishes. (She promises mee grob, those irresistible sweet and sour Thai noodles that are rarely found around town.) Atchana is resisting the trend of pairing sushi with her brand of Thai food. Maybe Indian with Thai I could see, but not Japanese, says the practical and pleasant hospitality pro. People always ask. But I am not doing it. At least not for now. E-mail Victoria Pesce Elliott at velliott@MiamiHerald.com. You can follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE and on her Facebook fan page.
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