Category Archives: Thai

Wondee Siam: authentic Thai experience in Hell’s Kitchen

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I remember hearing about Wondee Siam years ago. My colleague and now friend Jane would venture crosstown just for a crispy beef salad at this tiny 5-table restaurant. So naturally, when she had a free night back in town, she suggested we meet there to fulfill her undying craving for their authentic thai food. As soon as I was forced to squeeze through the kitchen to use the restroom, I knew it would be tasty. Chefs orchestrating woks and pots and fryers gracefully and pumping out hot, flavorful food made me feel like I was actually in Thailand, in the thick of master thai chefs so focused on their craft.

crispy pork

crispy pork

fried red snapper with mango salad

fried red snapper with mango salad

I arrived famished, so after a short wait for a table, Jane and I shared pad thai with shrimp, crispy pork with water spinach, and whole fried red snapper with a vinegary mango salad. Overwhelmed by the bounty of food and salty and spicy sauces, we slowly made our way through the bright and flavorful meal. The fried fish was meaty and surprisingly easy to eat – instead of arriving whole and untouched, the fish was more of a plate to whole the perfect rectangular pieces of fish filet that had been removed from the fish and fried separately. With the mango salad, this was the perfect hearty and refreshing flavor combination. The pad thai was, as pad thai always is, delicious, and the bite sized crispy pork was crunchy but not at all greasy. The service was spot on, and with a bill amounting to $50, I only wish this place was closer to my house. Keep in mind it’s BYOB – another great reason to gather here for a cheap meal with friends.

Grade: A+
Location: 752 9th Ave btwn 52nd and 53rd streets
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Chelsea Thai: the Meatpacking’s answer to quick, affordable and flavorful

Chelsea Thai

Despite passing by Chelsea Thai on my walk home every day for almost four years, I’ve never been compelled to stop for takeout; Buon Italia’s glass case of glistening pasta and bruschetta is just too distracting. But tonight, I was handed the opportunity to break my habit when my yoga buddy Emily suggested we eat there before parting ways. Thai isn’t exactly the type of food I crave after sweating out my angst and toxins in a therapeutic yoga session, but I’m trying to live on the edge a little more in 2013. So, I said boldly, “sure, why not.” Walking on the wild side if I say so myself!

Chelsea Thai sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the many modern and pristine little shops in the immediate vicinity. The steel walls covered in menu-photos are the only “decor” that add color to the place, and the minimal Thai products for sale sit lonely on an industrial shelf smack dab in the dining area. Fortunately, there are a few tables just outside the door in the Chelsea Market passage-way that are tolerable as dining tables for a quick meal on the run.

chicken pad thai

pad thai*

 

The place was closing up shop around 9pm as we were walking in, but we made it just in time to place an order for their hot chicken soup with rice noodles. A little disclaimer here, I’m on a semi-cleanse for the next few weeks, so had I been eating normally, I would have had Pad Thai or one of the other gloriously pictured noodle dishes on their menu. I know they are good because even free-food endowed Googlers order the stuff during lunch breaks. Still, Thai soup is admittedly much more entertaining than regular chicken soup because of the interesting sweet and sour flavors that pervade every molecule of broth. This soup was no different. I ordered it with extra vegetables and chicken, and it was unveiled as a bounty of “innards” (as my friend’s boyfriend likes to call it) in a delicious sea of earthy, lightweight but rich-in-flavor soup. A touch of sriracha brightened the flavors enough that I actually felt like I was indulging in something non-cleanse friendly (which truthfully and ironically is the goal when you’re trying to survive on a cleanse).

So my rotation of Buon Italia, Lobster Place or Hale & Hearty as dinner takeout must now make room for the occasional Chelsea Thai treat. While I wouldn’t think twice about eating inside the shop for a “feel-good” meal out, my soup has me convinced that I should permanently consider it as a dinner option on my nightly walks home.

Grade: A
LocationChelsea Market, 88 10th Avenue between 15th & 16th streets
*photos from voiceplaces.com

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Thai Market: noodles and atmosphere in Harlem

Go to seamlessweb.com for upper west side delivery and you’ll find about 100 Thai restaurants populating the search results. What is one to do with all the options and absolutely nothing in her uptown repertoire? Well, after perusing chowhound, yelp and multiple menus, I zoomed in on Thai Market, the only one in the bunch with a splash of style, good cocktails, and a supposedly hipster vibe. But instead of ordering, I decided to check the place out to get my daily dose of fresh air and conversation during a week of hurricane isolation.

Crowds at the entryway were the first sign of the good food at this place, and I overheard multiple people claiming that it was the best thai in the area while sitting at the bar. Too bad for Wonde Siam just across the street. After ordering a pineapple-tequila cocktail, I went overboard and ordered Tom Yum Goong, Salmon WrapsChicken Pad See Ew, and Vegetable Curry to share from the vintage-style menu. The soup, which was salty, sweet, and sour, came with big pieces of mushroom and plump shrimp and could have easily been an affordable light meal on its own. That didn’t stop me from digging into the salmon wrap, a stack of lettuce cups aside a pile of crumbled salmon, which unfortunately tasted more like cold, dried, crunchy cat food than Thai fish. I blame the order and not the restaurant,  because this could very well be authentic and purely not my favorite. The thick, buttery noodles of the Pad See Ew and the earthy curry with crispy fried tofu made up for any disappointment – both dishes were piping hot and delicious. Totally impressed by the main courses and the atmosphere of this place, I didn’t hesitate a minute when selecting the ginger and green tea ice cream – ordering dessert is my way of closing out only meals I enjoy.

hot and sour soup

Pad See Ew – stir fry noodles with soy sauce

I struggle to find clean, aesthetically-pleasing, reliably good Thai restaurants in my neighborhood, so I might just have to stick it out until my next trip to Harlem to get some solid noodles and curry. I’d say it’s worth the wait – Thai Market is definitely a must if you’re anywhere north of 70th street.

Grade: A-
Location: 960 Amsterdam Ave btwn 107th & 108th St

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Kin Shop

Kin Shop

I feel accomplished now that I can finally call myself a veteran of Kin Shop, most famously know as Top Chef’s Herald Dieterele’s Thai noodle house. Though I tend to be wary of  reality TV chef establishments, my entire experience tonight left me convinced that fame and talent can actually go hand in hand.

It all started with the delectable vodka drink, as it usually does. As my friend Lauren and I sorted out our plan of food action, I sipped on a Phuket Fizz – a perfectly sweet pineapple-basil cocktail that I could have easily chugged in minutes had I not been pacing myself with a wine drinker. As such a stickler about overly sweet drinks, this simple-syrup-free concoction tasted like a dream come true, especially after a 20 minute walk in 94 degree weather (pain also mitigated at the sight of Rihanna at Da Silvano).

cocktail with fresh pineapple and basil..mmm

Inventive currys and salads overwhelm the menu at Kin Shop, and after so many recent meals at Western-style restaurants, I was relieved by the challenge of selecting our courses. With dishes ranging from stewed goat to squid ink soup, this place can’t possibly remedy a craving for Pad Thai, but can no doubt satisfy the Anthony Bourdain adventure-seeker within us all. Regardless of the menu shockers, Lauren and I decided to keep it somewhat straight forward for our first go round and started with our waiter’s first recommendation: the fried pork and crispy oyster salad. Though the sound of fried pork and crispy seafood had no initial appeal, upon one bite of the beautifully deep fried oyster, I was sold. The description of “crispy” rang true throughout – from the celery, to the peanuts, to the crunchy oyster and the perfectly fried pork fat. The tangy flavors of the vinegar sauce on top of the buttery soft oyster, complimented by the thick, crispy chunks of the pork created an unimaginably incredible combination. With the unifying ingredients of vinegar and spice, this dish just about surpassed every surf and turf interpretation I’ve ever tried. Gotta taste it to believe it!

crispy pork and oyster salad

For our entree, Lauren and I split the pan roasted halibut with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and green curry. Expecting large chunks of fish and vegetables masked by an overwhelming sauce, I was thrilled to find a perfectly clean pan roasted fish atop a beautiful, pea-green, subtly creamy curry. The vegetables were perfectly crisp and delicately cooked. The sauce beneath the fish was such a relief – it was nice to have the option to eat cleanly when the curry got too overwhelming.

Eggplant and Halibut

We paired the fish with an interesting selection of grilled egg plant pan fried with fish sauce and a light portion of freshly chopped mint. Though the grilled eggplant all appeared to be the same breed to me, the soft, glistening slices were addictive.

A pot of rice would have tied all of this together well, but we instead fell for the perfectly fried roti, an indian bread that was as beautifully flakey and buttery as a fresh baked french croissant. With the coriander nam prik, a decadent dipping sauce made with shrimp paste and duck fat. I don’t regret the decision to opt for bread over rice, and I would even consider a trip to Kin Shop just for this side.

golden brownroti

After an amazing meal orchestrated by wonderful, timely service, I left Kin Shop with full confidence that I would be back at the next sign of a bold-flavored, spicy cuisine craving. And, second time is always easier than the first: I’ve got that spicy duck salad on my radar for next time around.

Grade: A

Location: 469-6th Avenue between 11th and 12th Street

Website: http://www.kinshopnyc.com

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Filed under Fun Group Dinner, Thai, West Village

Lovely Day

I couldn’t envision a restaurant described as “hipster” until tonight, when my sister and I met my cousins for dinner at Lovely Day in Nolita. Lovely Day is one of the many cozy, quaint, cash-only restaurants on or near Elizabeth street that specialize in a unique variety of ethnic food and specialty cocktails at fair prices. The place doesn’t take reservations and is very casual, so much that you may feel unwelcome dolled up in New York- chic attire. The service is super laid back, and the waiters more closely represent the majority of the urban Lower East Side than the more often seen aspiring actors doing their day jobs to pay the bills.


For such a chill, no-frills establishment, I was surprised to find such an interesting list of alcoholic beverages. I went for the gin and ginger cocktail, served in a dainty champagne coup, yet ridiculously strong. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it went down a little too smoothly and I was feeling quite fine after just two or three sips. Perfect appetite enhancer, which led us to get started ordering our food immediately.

To start, we shared two of the Ginger Fried Chicken appetizers, which were served hot and lightly pan fried accompanied by lime wedges and a garlicky chili aioli. Considering I despise mayonnaise, I was thrilled by the combination of
aioli and tangy fried chicken breast. I couldn’t necessarily taste the ginger in this dish, but overall the chicken with the sauce was a beautiful take on Asian fried chicken. No heavy batters needed to make this dish taste decadent.

For my main course, despite the long list of classic noodle and rice dishes, I chose the seared salmon with mashed sweet potatoes, market greens, and orange cream sauce, which really called my name. The salmon was cooked rare just as I had requested. The orange cream sauce rounded out the citrusy flavors in the salad and the heartiness of the chunky sweet potato mash. Everything on my plate was delicious, and as a salmon skin lover, I was really pleased with the crispiness of all angles of the fish.

My sister had the Chicken Pad Thai, which I happily shared, but I wouldn’t say was some of the best pad thai I’ve eaten. With muted spice and flavors, this resembled a mild chow mein with lime. I could go so far as saying it was bland, but it was far too good for that label – it just wasn’t as stand out in Pad Thai terms.

Despite the dinner overload, we decided on the warm chocolate cake to end the night. Though the menu promised homemade whipped cream, the cake came out seul and I had to remind the waiter that it was missing a key ingredient. He simply stated “we didn’t make any whipped cream tonight.” He’s lucky that the cake was good on its own because it’s rare that I eat a chocolate dessert without milk, ice cream, whipped cream, or some white side to balance out the richness.

All in all, Lovely Day is a fun spot for a younger crowd not intent on a michelen star, upscale meal. For those on a budget expecting atmosphere, cocktails, and a half-assAsian menu, Lovely Day fits the bill. Even better, it’s in a great location in a night life center for post dinner bar-hopping – that is, if you can stand after consuming two of their severely stiff cocktails.

Grade: B+
Location: 196 Elizabeth Street @ Prince Street




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Ma Peche

Ohhh David Chang. You just keep on getting better and better! I actually had no intention of visiting Ma Peche until my colleague proposed it as an idea for a client dinner. The fact that we didn’t have a reservation made me nervous, but we were pleasantly surprised by the exceptionally accommodating host upon arrival. We put in our name, requested a table for 8pm, and they eagerly put us in their book, happy to make it happen. Sure enough, we came back at 8pm after getting manicures, and were seated after 5 minutes. From the beginning Ma Peche impressed.

The vibe at Ma Peche is very laid back, but in a modern way. Light wooden tables, stiff, uncomfortable chairs, high, white-walled ceilings, and bright lighting give it a very sophisticated, classiroomy feel. The waiters are all very young, chummy, and evidently passionate about the food they’re serving. You can tell that everyone there, waitstaff and customers alike, all feel privileged to be a part of the Ma Peche experience.

Considering we were taking out clients, the sky was the limit with our menu choices – my favorite type of dining experience! We literally picked everything that caught our eyes on the menu, and it ended up being a complete success. And for this reason (and because I’m lazy), I’m going to describe everything we ordered in list form:

1. Squid salad with scallions, peanuts – light with bright, citrus-y flavors
2. Beef tartare, soy, scallions, mint – not my typical appetizer choice, but the accompanying shrimp chips were tasty
3. Asparagus salad with crab and egg yolk – perfectly al dente aspargus with a creamy yet delicate crab dressing
4. Pork ribs with lemongrass caramel – one of my favorites, crispy fried pork that falls off the bone
5. Huge scallops, seared with brown butter, lime, pea shoots – gigantic scallops, perfectly cooked and buttery
6. Rice noodles, spicy pork, sawleaf herb – the oddly shaped noodles, crispy on the inside, were not at all what I expected but a nice surprise. The fleks of pork added great flavor and texture to the dish
7. Short ribs with carrots and spaetzle – another hit – melt in your mouth cubes of short rib with a light yet flavorful broth
8. Fried calamari with scallions and fish sauce – a vinagary delicacy, I could eat a whole bowl!

Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of the food, but I did get a chance to take photos of two equally stellar sightings: Neal Patrick Harris and Mark Summers, who were dining together amongst a large group of young men and one woman. After a cocktail and a glass of wine, I couldn’t resist asking for a photo upon their exit. Success! They were both incredibly nice, and pleased to take a photo with their fans (especially Marc Summers, Double Dare blast from the past). If you are dying to see food photos, though, don’t fret – about every blog out there is filled with Ma Peche slide shows – check out Grub Street for a sneak peek.
The experience didn’t end with dinner, of course, though for the unmotivated it normally would. Ma Peche doesn’t serve dessert in the main dining room. This, to me, is a huge setback. I don’t want to get out of my chair to get dessert, because that’s when I realize I’m too full to actually eat it. Ma Peche gives you two options – take dessert to-go from the Milk Bar that welcomes you upon entering with bright neon lights, or sit in the quiet upstairs lounge and order. We opted for the latter and pre-ordered four of the famous freshly baked Milk Bar Chocolate Chip Cookies, which take 10 minutes to bake. These were absolutely incredible, and washed down with a cold glass of milk, brought me more back to my childhood than Marc Summers and the classroom like setting did combined. Pure bliss. Warm, doughy, chocolatey, chewy cookies. We also ordered the Candy Bar pie, which is the perfect combo of salty and sweet, chocolate and caramel, hard and smooth textures.

Overall, Ma Peche was awesome and scored especially high on food and service. The host even left us with his card so we could give him a heads up on our future visits. He may regret that, because I will definitely be making this place a stop when visitors come to town!

Grade: A-
Address: Mezzanine of Chambers Hotel, 15 W 56th St between 5th and 6th
Website: http://www.momofuku.com/mapeche/

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Baoguette – Tasty cheap eat, but don’t go for the ambiance

For the past few months, I’ve read a new article almost daily about the thrill of Vietnamese sandwiches, or Banh Mi as they are more traditionally known. Banh mi are traditionally made of thinly sliced pickled carrots, daikon, onions, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeño peppers and some kind of meat, and shops that sell them have recently popped up all over NYC.

To be honest, though, sweet and spicy Asian ingredients on a warm french baguette at first thought sounded like an excessive clash of flavors and cultures. That’s like putting beans, rice, salsa, sour cream and carnitas on sliced bread. But being a die hard food trend follower, I decided to suck up my reservations and taste one. And, considering “Baoguette” opened directly beneath my apartment, I really had no excuse to deny them.
Baoguette is a tiny place with multiple locations, and a little more modern in appearance than what one would normally imagine a Vietnamese sandwich shop to look like. The restaurant is clean with zen-like decor, and vary narrow in shape. There are only about 4 booths and three small tables, but the front of the restaurant is lined with a bar for solo eaters. But, don’t be fooled by the bar – the place has yet to receive its liquor license, though it welcomes outside beverages. My first time around, we brought in coronas, which actually coupled the food quite nicely.
Fortunately there’s quite a bit of variety on the menu for a traditional sandwich/pho shop. I decided to start with the Vietnamese shrimp summer rolls – pretty traditional with rice paper, poached shrimp, noodles, and a sweet and tangy peanut dipping sauce. I was happily surprised that they were only $5 and tasted just as good as any other summer roll I’ve tried. For my entree I tried both the beef broth Pho and the BBQ chicken sandwich. Both were excellent, though the pho could have come out a bit hotter. The noodles of the pho were long and thin, and it is served with a generous plate of bean sprouts, mind, basil and all of the other awesome fixings that generally come with pho.
The BBQ chicken Banh mi was absolutely delicious. Tender pieces of dark meat chicken, thin slices of cucumber, bean sprouts, and carrots stuffed into a warm, crispy baguette actually worked perfectly as a unique combination. With its perfect consistency and doughiness, the bread really stood out. Be warned, however, that the sandwiches come with mayo – something not in the menu description. But if you make the mistake it can be easily corrected: once our servor overheard us griping about that, he immediately came out with another sandwich – this time without mayo. Great service in a small sandwich shop at low prices? Quite a deal I might say.
I would definitely eat Baoguette again – in fact I’ve returned there since my first visit – but I wouldn’t waste a night here if you’d like to be “wined and dined.” Though its food is cheap and delicious, the place is in desperate need for business, making the restaurant feel starck, empty, and stale. Not a fun environment to spend time in. However, give it a chance, and it may change your mind about your expectations of fusion cuisine … definitely changed mine!
Baoguette/Pho Sure
Address: 120 Christopher Street @ Bedford

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