When we move to a new place, one of the first things we do is try and get our source for decent Thai food locked down. Without a Thai place, where do you go when you’ve been mattress shopping all night, and don’t have the ability to cook a meal, or even dial a phone to order a pizza? Based on the favorable reviews we read in the Portland Phoenix and in several other local food blogs, the first place we tried was Pom’s Thai Restaurant. Because of where we were shopping, we chose the South Portland location, as opposed to the sister restaurant, Pom’s Thai Taste on Congress Street.
The first thing that strikes you about Pom’s Thai Restaurant is that it is a little short on atmosphere. Forgoing Thai ambiance in favor of weirdly-modern Ikea pendant lighting and a certain “mini mall dentist” drop-ceiling vibe, Pom’s is whisper-quiet. Even with several other tables of customers, the room is sufficiently silent to make any of the mixed group of diners afraid to speak above a whisper. I’m not immediately turned off, though, by such a lack of attention to atmosphere in either Thai or Indian restaurants, especially when the food is amazing.
We have eaten at this restaurant twice since arriving, and each time, I ordered one of my favorites: Yellow curry with potatoes, snow peas, pineapple, onions, tomatoes, and crispy duck. I should correct that; the first time I ordered this dish at Pom’s, it was instantly given “all-time favorite” status. I have spent plenty of time dancing with chicken curries, but the upgrade to crispy fried duck, on our first trip, was a revelation. This dish, as I received it the first time, was one of the best curries I have ever had. Each component of the dish was outstanding entirely on its own, and each vegetable was cooked perfectly. The snow peas and the potatoes, in particular, were like oversaturated, cartoon versions of themselves; storybook examples of the way you expect these vegetables to taste when they are prepared perfectly. In concert with the perfectly deep-fried duck breast, fanned in the bowl, this dish left ordinary curry dishes behind in its wake.
The heat mounted as I worked my way through the bowl, sweating, crazed like a 1950′s sailor on shore leave in a ladyboy whorehouse. I wanted to try each vegetable combined with every other, I wanted the crispy end piece of the duck breast combined with a chunk of hot pineapple, I wanted to know what eating only the snowpeas tasted like, I wanted to mop my brow and greedily tilt the whole bowl down my throat. At $16.95, I hadn’t just had dinner: I’d had a whole experience, and every day, I waited until I could go back.
It was with a giddy excitement, then, that I sat down at Pom’s Thai Restaurant again, cold Singha in glass, ready to do it all again. I ordered the yellow curry with crispy duck, as is my tendency when I find a dish I really love. But, but…what was this? It looked the same, but it…wasn’t. The tomatoes, previously so bright and bursty, now sat as sad little hard beige wedges of flavorlessness. The potatoes were undercooked and precise enough in their squareness to make me wonder if they hadn’t arrived pre-cubed. The duck was cooked as wonderfully as it had been the previous night, but instead of being artfully fanned atop the curry as a kind of delicious ribbon on a spicy present, it was all kind of mixed together, which took a lot of its crispiness away. The curry sauce, on its own, had the same intense depth of flavor that I remembered from my previous trip, but something was just…off. It wasn’t BAD Thai food; far from it. It wasn’t the kind of food that you write poetry about, though, or even the kind of food that you try and clumsily craft a whorehouse metaphor from.
If I had to guess, I would suggest that the dish hadn’t been cooked together to allow for cohesion; that instead, each individual element was spooned into a bowl, and then a ladle of curry sauce poured on top. It’s not necesarily the wrong way to prepare such a dish, but it does make it feel a little incomplete, and the ingredients seem a little less connected.
Our second experience at Pom’s certainly wasn’t enough to keep us from returning. It’s just disappointing to go from such a mind blowingly-fantastic meal to such a “meh” one. Instead of returning for a third helping of yellow curry with crispy duck at Pom’s Thai Restaurant, we may now be tempted to branch out and try someplace else. And maybe that’s as it should be.