In its first few months, Tie Restaurant & Bar seemed destined to have a knotty existence.
Located just steps from the Fort Worth Convention Center, the restaurant doubled the number of exclusively Thai eateries downtown (the other being mainstay Thai Tina's, situated somewhat strangely in the lobby of the Embassy Suites near Bass Hall).
Tie boasted an intriguing pedigree in the form of owners Charles and "P-Nutt" Corcoran, who also run Thai Thai in Dallas. And on my first excursion to Tie, for takeout, I was impressed with the speed of service and the quality of the food, given the relatively low price.
I talked up the joint to my co-workers, who decided a few weeks after my initial visit to celebrate a birthday lunch there. Suffice to say, my second Tie experience was not a pleasant one.
Only one member of our party ever actually received any food, with the rest of our party waiting in vain, with no explanation from the wait staff. The lunch ended abruptly when we got up and quietly stormed out, forced to sate ourselves with pizza instead.
The whole episode left such a sour taste in my mouth that it was many months before I felt like giving Tie another chance.
On a recent weeknight evening, my wife and I returned and found a restaurant in better shape than I'd remembered.
Unassuming from the outside, Tie's interior -- decked out with dark colors, wood flooring and, naturally, neckties adorning the back of the bar -- fits the slightly cluttered, non sequitur school of design that seems de rigueur for most Asian restaurants (a video gambling device greets visitors at the door, as flat-screen TVs show sports).
But it's the food, not the ambiance, that will bring you back, again and again.
Working from "P-Nutt" Corcoran's original Thai recipes from the Bangkok region, the extensive menu touches plenty of familiar bases -- a variety of curries, fried rice dishes, sticky rice and pad Thai -- along with soups, salads and a sizable assortment of appetizers, all with prices that won't break the bank (prices range from $3.95-$10.95 for most items).
We sampled the "crab cream cheese" ($4.95), shorthand for the more familiar crab Rangoon, and found it pleasing. Crunchy without being greasy, the crab wasn't fully overwhelmed by the rich cream cheese.
My wife tried a cup of wonton soup ($4.95), laden with pork and shrimp and its clear broth laced with startling heat, as a prelude to our entrees.
My basil fried rice with chicken ($8.95) was spicy -- prepared as a three on a scale of one (mildest) to four (spiciest) -- and satisfying, with chunks of bell pepper and bits of egg strewn throughout.
The chicken pad Thai ($8.95) was further down the spice scale for my wife, but no less enjoyable; from the bean sprouts to the green onion, every ingredient tasted fresh.
The meal was capped off with a sweet, creamy serving of mango sticky rice ($4.95). Throughout, the server was attentive, unobtrusively refilling water and bringing out our food promptly.
Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, and ideal for a low-key happy hour (there are plenty of drink specials), Tie has loosened up and found its groove as it approaches its first anniversary.
The growing pains have given way to an appealing eatery offering a break from the burgers-and-beer norm.
Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic, 817-390-7713
On Twitter: @prestonjones