First Bite: Ronnarong Thai Tapas Bar

Love small plates? Then you’ll have to try the teenie Thai dishes at Union Square’s Ronnarong, tapas-sized portions which, at $5 a pop, chef Ronnarong “Ronnie” Saksua affectionately calls “drinking food.”

And he’s right on target: At Ronnarong, the food’s good, but the drinks shine. It’s tempting to blow your budget on the booze. Concoctions like the Thai Sangria ( Rosé, Sake, fresh ginger, lemongrass, and tropical fruit-$9) and the Sake Sunray (coconut, chili, sugar, lime, lemongrass, ginger, and soda-$9) are vibrant and elegant.

As for the eats, the tapas menu has both hits and misses, so it’s good that the portions are small. Golden crowns, eight tiny crispy rice bowls filled with ground chicken and shrimp and topped with peas and carrots, soaked up a sweet cucumber sauce nicely, yet remained crunchy despite our double dipping. The Paradise beef was like a candied beef jerky or chewy, dried teriyaki; we wouldn’t order it again.

For heartier appetites, there’s a larger dinner selection that offers greater sustenance, if not perfect execution. The duck Choo Chee ($12) came bathed in a sweet and spicy coconut curry sauce and surrounded by perfectly cooked snowpeas, red and green pepper, onion, green and yellow squash, green beans, and button mushrooms. And unlike the fatty-skinned duck that’s served at many Thai places, the skin on this bird was delicately rendered. The pork laab ($11), or lettuce wraps filled with extremely spicy ground pork and served with red onions and red pepper, was too heavy on the chili pepper and cilantro. It was overspiced and almost too fiery to eat. Even for someone who worships the hot pepper, it was tough to swallow.

Fortunately, the decor provides plenty of distraction. The restaurant was formerly called The Great Thai Chef, but it has since been remodeled and renamed to reflect its new menu and style. The small restaurant features green painted walls, white pendant lamps that look like giant lotus flowers, and benches adorned with blue and red satin throw pillows. Even the menus are decorated, featuring intricate wood carvings of elephants rising from the book-like covers. And there’s an herb garden in the window, complete with fresh basil and lemongrass, which are used in both the cocktails and the food.

The garden was looking quite withered when we visited, and as the server continually revisited our water glasses, we contemplated slipping some aqua to the suffering plants. Who needs water when you’ve got lemongrass sangria?

255 Washington Street, Somerville; 617-625-9296