Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Pam Real Thai

Astonishing. I've found a memorable Thai restaurant in NY. For years now I've been comparing every Thai place on Earth (outside of Thailand itself) to Hollywood's Sanamluang Cafe, and for years I've found nearly all of them wanting. It's been a drag, frankly. Exhausting, even. Comparison may be odious, but so is disappointing blandness. There's often as much flavor in a spoonful at Sanamluang as there is on an entire plate at an Americanized Thai spot like Arawan in Sausalito, CA. On the other hand, I loved Renu Nakorn in Norwalk, CA, and an upscale place V took me to in Redmond, WA, but neither is particularly convenient lately.

Tonight my disdain met its match at Pam Real Thai, on 49th just west of Ninth. It's the first NY place I've found that offers the elusive koo chai, or chive dumplings, and they're actually better than I'm used to. The noodle is thin but dense enough to hold an abundance of flavorful, slightly briny greens, and though I miss the crucial fried garlic garnish and yes, the pungent sauce is a little thin, they'll do. They'll do very well.

(Obsessional footnote: Once I got over my initial revulsion at the gooeyness of koo chai, I started wanting them every day. There were nights I'd show up at Sanamluang just for one order. It seemed freaky to come in just for a $3.50 appetizer, so I'd cover with some noodle dish. Eventually I reached satiety and had to lay off. Now I just like them every once in a while but see them as an index of a restaurant's possibilities.)

Tonight my dinner companions, new friends K and E (they're actually friends of friends of friends), were polite enough to try their first koo chais, tentatively splitting first one and then divvying up the other. They said they liked it. "Different!" was the word they used. K's massamun curry was light but full of flavor, with just enough snap left in the vegetables. The revelation lay before me, however, in the form of a seafood special thick with lime leaves, galanga, shredded young ginger, bell pepper, and garlic. And pleasingly non-rubbery squid. Tal pla something or other. It seemed a crime, but I had it all to myself; the two-chili alert may have scared them off. There is something to be said for the gluttonous autocracy of separate plates. Speaking of chiles, one of the condiment jars contained micro-wedges of fresh lime floating in a light fish sauce with paper-thin cylinders of hot red chiles. The limes are a zingy, crunchy treat, but the chiles are not to be trifled with.

I'm looking forward to trying the three-chile-alert gang tai pla: fermented fish kidney (!) with turmeric, lime leaves, chili paste and assorted vegetable. Here's hoping fish kidneys don't taste like lamb kidneys. And I'll leave time for durian, which has previously appeared in these pages. In case you forgot what I had to say about this fruit 10 months ago when recapping a Thai festival in North Hollywood, allow me to remind you:
    "It's not nearly as bad as folks make it out to be. Yes, the texture of the edible pulp is like rotting liver, and yes, it is cloyingly sweet, and yes, one does detect a strong whiff of, well, rottenness once again, but all in all, it's not so bad. Honest. It's a very labor-intensive fruit, though, and you have to wonder who was brave or desperate enough to eat the first one. A durian is about the size of a volleyball though not as spherical, with a spiky green hide that gives it a fierce medieval look; keelhauled onto the end of a pole it would be helpful in a street fight. Once you cut through the fibrous hull and use the side of a knife to tease out the edible pulp that surrounds the huge pits, you stand a fair chance of enjoying yourself."
I also noted, "People love durian and, rumor has it, will kill for it."

In all fairness, I should say that my mom took me to Pam a year or so ago and I failed to appreciate it. We must have ordered badly. Or perhaps it simply wasn't as good. I just looked at a four-year-old Chowhound thread on the topic and it appears Pam's excites mixed feelings. Apparently there's a real Thai treat in Woodside. Meanwhile, Pam is 10 minutes away.


sarah said...

when i was living there, i was pretty sure i had eaten at every thai restaurant in new york, but i don't know this one. sign me up.

there's plenty of bitchin thai food in frisco,i gotta say. now i have something new to order. excellent.

jneestin said...

Yo, sign me up too. I want to eat there, but not without your guidance. When are you going back?Nice description of the events in EH, which I was party to. Though I would have spent some more time on what you looked like on the floor, still in your chair, laughing. --Jon