Thai Chicken Larb

We don’t do a lot of Thai cooking at home, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. In our house, we tend to think of Thai cooking as an option more when the weather is cold; the fiery curries and thick, creamy coconut sauces that make up the bulk of our typical Thai takeout order don’t exactly scream “summertime refreshment.”

Thai Chicken Larb

But why not? After all, it’s hotter than the sins of all blackest hell in Thailand most of the time, right? And the other flavors that we tend to associate with Thai cooking are certainly lighter. Lemongrass, cilantro, lime; they all carry a sense of fragrant freshness, of light meals in warm climates, of sweaty backs in linen shirts.

Thai Chicken Larb

We take our cue for Thai Larb, a mince of chicken, lemongrass, and Thai chiles, drizzled in Sriracha and scooped up with lettuce leaves, from the ancient, grizzled street vendors of Thailand, where a 20 baht note will buy you a quick meal, a shot of cobra’s blood, and an unforgettable weekend, provided you don’t let traditional Western notions of hygiene and gender identity get in your way.

Our recipe captures the spirit and history of that storied land, which is to say that it’s similar to how they make the “Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps” at the P.F. Chang’s where I saw Alice Cooper that one time, located across from Flapper’s Discount Comedy Club in downtown Burbank. Enjoy.

Thai Chicken Larb

5 from 1 reviews

Thai Larb
 
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Serves: Serves 4

Ingredients
For the dressing:
  • ⅓ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
For the chicken:
  • 1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemongrass paste
  • Zest from one lime
  • 1 small red Thai chile, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 8 small iceberg lettuce or hearts of romaine leaves
  • ¼ cup chopped peanuts
  • Sriracha, to taste
  • Cilantro leaves and stems, roughly torn

Method
For the dressing:
  1. Stir all ingredients in a small bowl to blend; set dressing aside.
For the chicken:
  1. Combine first 8 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, and pulse until chicken is chopped. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium–high heat. Add chicken mixture and sauté, breaking into small bits, until chicken begins to brown, about 8 minutes.
  2. Place 2 lettuce leaves on each plate. Top leaves with chicken mixture, dividing evenly. Spoon dressing over the top of each cup, then finish with a drizzle of Sriracha, some chopped peanuts, and the fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.

Notes
Adapted from a recipe by Bon Appetit

Spicy Thai Peanut Chicken Wings with Raspberry Habanero Sauce (PB&J Wings)

Do you ever find yourself with a potential cooking project nagging at the back of your mind? A phrase, maybe, or a half-formed idea that is missing some crucial details? You may not even actively be working on it; sometimes, it’s just a few words rattling around in the back of your mind as you go about your daily business.

For the last year or so, I’ve been playing out this very cooking conundrum. What was the phrase that was rattling around at the edges of my consciousness, fraying my nerves and pushing me closer and closer to an act of self-harm?

“Peanut butter and jelly wings.”

Thai Peanut Wings with Raspberry Habanero Sauce (PB&J Wings)

It was total nonsense; a jumbling of sounds that was less the name of a recipe, and more a collection of random nouns that didn’t link together in any kind of meaningful way. Actually, it was worse than that: If I strictly translated a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into Buffalo wing form, the results would be kind of, well, disgusting.

Thank goodness for the 100 million Thai people, and their important work in the world of chicken-and-peanut based appetizers! They’ve been combining chicken and peanuts in delicious ways for thousands of years, providing the first step in unlocking the “PB&J Wing” demons that were lurking behind my eyeballs.

For our “jelly,” I skipped any elaborate sauces, and turned straight to…jelly. It’s already almost perfect; we started with a seedless red raspberry jelly, thinned it with some apple cider vinegar, and then simmered a fresh habanero pepper in the mixture for about 15 minutes, to give it some heat. As it cools, it will firm back up, so keep it warm until you’re ready to spatter it all over your chicken wings.

The resulting chicken wings are a peanuty, fruity, spicy snack that’s perfect for getting all over your face and serving with pint after pint of crisp, cold beer. And finally, thanks to you, I’ve got this culinary monkey off my back. Enjoy.

Thai Peanut Wings with Raspberry Habanero Sauce (PB&J Wings)

5 from 1 reviews

Spicy Thai Peanut Chicken Wings with Raspberry Habanero Sauce (PB&J Wings)
 
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Serves: 20 wings

Ingredients
For the marinade:
  • Zest of 3 limes
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 serrano chiles
  • 2 pounds chicken wing segments, cut at the joints (about 20 wings and drummettes)
For the peanut sauce:
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, more as needed to thin the sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the raspberry habanero sauce:
  • ½ cup seedless raspberry jam
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 fresh habanero pepper
To assemble:
  • Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying
  • 2 teaspoons black sesame or poppy seeds
  • Sliced green onions, to garnish

Method
For the marinade:
  1. Combine the lime zest and juice, water, onion, garlic, ginger, chipotle powder, soy sauce and serrano chile in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until nearly smooth.
  2. Place the wings in a bowl or large, sealable plastic bag. Pour over the marinade, toss to cover all pieces, and cover bowl (or seal bag). Refrigerate overnight.
For the peanut sauce:
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the peanut butter, brown sugar, canola oil, sesame oil, lime juice, salt smoked paprika, and cayenne. Stir frequently, until the ingredients are combined and the sauce warms; be careful not to cook at too high a heat, or the sauce may burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
For the raspberry habanero sauce:
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberry jam, vinegar, and habanero, split lengthwise with seeds removed. Simmer, stirring often, until jam breaks down, then starts to re-thicken. If you want to be fancy and serve in a squeeze bottle, remove the habanero first.
To assemble:
  1. Remove the wings from the marinade, blotting dry with paper towels to dry.
  2. Fill a pot with frying oil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Heat the oil to maintain a temperature of 350 degrees. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Fry the wings, in batches, until the skin is crisp and a rich golden-brown, about 10-12 minutes per batch. Transfer cooked wings to a rack resting on a baking sheet, skin side down, spacing them apart so they do not touch. Continue until all the wings are fried.
  4. Brush each wing on one side with a light coating of sauce. Place the wings in the oven for about 5 minutes to bake the sauce onto the wings. Remove the wings from the oven and flip them over, brushing the other side with a light coating of sauce. Sprinkle over the sesame or poppy seeds and bake again for about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the wings to a plate, drizzle with liberal amounts of the raspberry habanero sauce, sprinkle with green onions, and serve immediately, with extra sauce on the side.

Thai Peanut Wings with Raspberry Habanero Sauce (PB&J Wings)

Lamb Chops with Green Curry

There’s no two ways about it. I’ve been in a cooking rut.

I’m not sure what it is. One minute, it seems like we’re custom grinding our own burger blends and peeling the skin off of tongues, and the next, I can’t even seem to get it together to heat up a container of soup I bought from the store, ostensibly for inspiration but really just so we’d have something to eat.

Maybe it’s not yet adjusting to our new rental kitchen. Or not liking my camera lens as much as my old one. Or feeling like I left all of my good pots and pans back home. I don’t know, but something’s not right, and I’ve got to figure out how to fix it.

Lamb Chops with Green Curry

For a long time, the solution I’ve been trying is to just not bother cooking, opting instead to eat all of my lunches out of styrofoam containers, or place the responsibility for feeding us all solely on Jillian’s shoulders. But she has enough going on, and not cooking doesn’t seem to be making me any better at cooking.

Instead, I’m going to try approaching it the way a writer tackles a blank page. I’m just going to start cooking something, anything, starting slow, working my way through some easy recipes with just a few ingredients, and not worrying too much about the results.

Lamb Chops with Green Curry

In this case, the results are quite good. Find the best rack of lamb you can, roast it simply with just a little salt and pepper, and serve it with an easy, off-the-shelf Thai green curry and spinach sauce. It’s a satisfying supper that looks like it came out of a restaurant kitchen, in under 30 minutes and with just a couple of dirty dishes.

Does this ever happen to you? What do you do to get out of your cooking creativity ruts?

Lamb Chops with Green Curry

5 from 1 reviews

Lamb Chops with Green Curry
 
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Serves: 6-8 chops

Ingredients
  • 1 lb rack of lamb, drenched
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • ¼ cup plain greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons green curry paste

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 450. Heat oil until nearly smoking in cast iron skillet over high heat. Season lamb with salt and pepper and add to pan, fat side down. Cook until browned, about 6 minutes. Flip lamb and transfer to oven. Roast, about 12 minutes for medium rare.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients in blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and boil over medium high heat for two minutes, or until slightly thickened. Serve with lamb.

Notes
Adapted from a recipe by Rachel Ray.

Lamb Chops with Green Curry

Lobster Tom Kha Soup

It was one degree Fahrenheit when we left the house this morning. One. The loneliest number. I know all anyone is doing on Facebook and the news and in the bank and at school and work and wherever you go/look/listen is complaining about the cold. It’s boring, frankly. But, also, at the risk of sounding trite, HOLYCRAPIT’SCOOOOLD!!!!!!! Intrepid Violet and I ventured out to a music class at our public library and then spent the afternoon at the Farnsworth Museum, which I somehow didn’t know was free to Rockland residents. What a sweet deal! It’s cozy and warm and filled with light and art and books and nice (bored) security guards who smile and wave at your baby who is removing her socks over by the Wyeths. Go keep them company! It’s dangerously frigid but very, very beautiful. Geometric patterns of frost on the windowpanes, water color skies, and somanymillions of stars.

The recipes I consulted to make tom kha (gai, or chicken) coconut soup, all call for galangal and kaffir lime leaves, neither of which I could find locally. So I made do with a little pot of Thai red curry paste made by Thai Kitchen, which contains both, as well as garlic and chile. It turns the soup a satisfying orange-red and adds a bit of heat. I could have/should have used the lobster shells to make a rich stock, but the soup didn’t suffer, much. Adding nam pla (fish sauce) imparts that je ne sais what now? inherent in Asian cuisine. Also, slowly warming the stock and coconut milk with the aromatics helped deepen the flavor. I undercooked the lobster by a minute, maybe, so that it wouldn’t get gummy when I later introduced it into the soup. This definitely requires a bit of tasting as you go and adjusting the seasoning. And I use lite [sic] coconut milk, because the full-fat version freaks me out. Whenever I get tom kha at my favorite New Haven Thai place, it is full of these oddly buoyant mushrooms that bob and float and somersault. I used sliced shiitakes, that add a good earthiness. Finally, noodles! Hooray noodles. One more thing, about the lemongrass: I used a meat tenderizer to smash it, which was both fun and fragrant.

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Long Grain

Long Grain on UrbanspoonThe first time I had Thai food I was a college freshman in Boston. My dad came up to check on me and ask if I was already behind in science (I was) and how I’d managed to spend $300 in two months at the Campus Convenience store (Marlboro reds and milk for White Russians, obviously). As we sat alone at lunchtime in an otherwise empty dining room slurping spicy and sweet and savory noodles, discussing my uncertain future, I really had no idea how any of it would turn out. Sixteen years later, I have no idea how any of this happened. But I’m sitting in a different Thai restaurant, with another man I love and trust. We’re sampling some of the best food I’ve had in a very long while.

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Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

Because it’s been raining for one hundred and sixty-eight hours and the end of times is imminent, today we need soup. And because I don’t get to go to Ivy Noodle on Sunday with my roadtripping collaborator and his northbound mom, I started searching for soups with a Chinese/Thai flavor profile. Specfically, the chicken curry noodle I crave when I’m away from the Elm City. I scoured the interwebs and still I couldn’t find the elusive recipe. This is just a poor approximation. I cobbled together a plan from those two most charming British cooks, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. What resulted was a satisfying soup that took less than half an hour to prepare. Beautiful in color, rich yet light(ish), this dish will stay with you right up until The Rapture.

Thai Chicken Noodle Soup
adapted from both Nigella and Jamie

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 2 red chiles, diced
  • 1 cup chopped kale, ribs removed
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, outer leaves removed, thinly sliced
  • cilantro, optional (for garnish)
  • some salt
  • rice noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 

Method

I seasoned the chicken thighs with salt and cooked them in grapeseed oil in my soup pot until browned. I removed them to a cutting board to shred and into the pot went everything else but the noodles, which I added last, along with the chicken, after the soup had boiled and I turned down the heat to a low simmer. Serve with cilantro, if you like it.

Enjoy! And see you on Monday, should we somehow survive.

Boda

Boda on UrbanspoonI was bored by dinner at Boda. And I’m trying to get to the bottom of it. We arrived at seven-ish on a Friday and waited for two couples ahead of us to be seated. We admired the dining room from diminutive benches, hidden between the door and the host station. The lower dining room is a beautiful space, with warm wood-beamed ceilings, interesting lighting, and one polished gray cement wall. The (good-at-her-job, I oughta know) hostess offered us seats at the four-person grill-front bar, where we sipped cocktails. My house-made, cinnamon-infused bourbon made a Manhattan ($7) that tasted like a very boozy Christmas in July with Judy Garland. That’s a lot of hyphens.

I felt like a clumsy, ineffectual giant pulling back my tiny chair at the heavy wooden table. I could not get comfortable all evening. Even the slender menus have heft. Perusing these, a few things caught our attention. Instead of ordering entrees, we decided to share three from the tapas column: Thai Northern-style sausage ($5), crispy quail ($6), Brussels sprouts ($7), and three skewers: pork belly ($5), bacon wrapped scallop ($8), and pork stuffed jalapeno ($5). This is my favorite way to eat (or is it everyone’s?) and since the emphasis here is street food, it seemed appropriate.

Quail is an insipid spit of a bird and nibbling its flesh proved awkward. The sausage was interesting, with a deep lemongrass aroma, but I don’t need it in my life. The dish that most delighted me was the Brussels Sprouts, all small and fried, with saucy leaves falling away from green flesh. This and the scallop-wrapped-in-bacon skewer were the two outstanding choices. It was the single best scallop of my life; the bacon melted into meat and did not overwhelm the sweet mollusk, with sublime results. I liked the pork belly because it tasted the way a multi-ethnic picnic in the park on a Sunday in Brooklyn smells. But it’s not a reason to go on, if you are feeling lost and torpid. Sadly, there was no heat in the jalapeno and its pork stuffing was bland. It was the low point of a meal we wanted to love like crazy, but only felt fondly about. I would invite this dinner to a formal open house, but never to my slumber party.

The crisp and mineral Picpoul de Pinet ($7) was the sort of white wine that really tickles me. I will go back for that all summer. It’s wine you drink on a roof top garden strewn with herbs and lofty individuals. And I do want to try the mussels in curry broth. And the organic beef salad. And the lamb curry. And munch on the scallop skewer and Brussels sprouts again. As it turns out, I am not yet finished with Boda. I want to dig into Boda the way so many others who’ve reviewed it have. That night, it missed the mark for me. Maybe in the future. For now, I feel neutral, and cautiously optimistic.

It’s not that I was expecting typical American takeout Thai and it certainly is not my in depth experience with authentic Thai fare that kept me from having an exceptional experience. The service was fine – in turns unobtrusive and flaky but cute overall – that didn’t trouble me. What I had to drink was better than average. The price was right, at $61.50 for dinner for two. I can’t put my finger on why I felt so “meh” about it. Fortunately, it is a problem I can solve, or at least, make another attempt at understanding Portland’s Very Thai Kitchen Bar on Congress Street.

Siam Orchid

Siam Orchid on UrbanspoonWhen we ate at Siam Orchid at one o’clock, One City Center was as dingy as a Social Studies class filmstrip. I expected to see cohorts of ladies named Linda in big-shouldered suit jackets and Reeboks, chortling over chicken teriyaki. Instead we met Dawn from Appetite Portland, already gingerly eating from Styrofoam boxes. We were late, having been standing in line at Trader Joe’s for close to an hour. At 12:50, one earnest customer away from check out, we had to abandon our basket of wine, Chimay cheese, assorted party crackers, beef taquitos, Duvel, and pears, in order to get downtown for our lunch date, a few moments after on time.

Here’s a hint I hope you’ll never have to use: Siam Orchid only accepts greenbacks. So, I had to negotiate the narrow escalator one flight up to the Bank of America vestibule, where I extracted some cash-money. Back in the food court, I asked my Thai moustachio’d counterman for fresh spring rolls, crab rangoon, chicken satay, and an order of basil fried rice with chicken. With two bottles of water, my total was $21.24. All too soon I was confronted with my fate.

I never order sticky-wrapped spring rolls stuffed with lettuce, etc. accompanied with chili-spiked sweet sauce. And now I know why. I am certain other versions must be more…effusive, based on the rest of my order. We took one look at these rolls, at these rollups of iceberg-lettuce-and-shredded-carrot bagged-salad castoff, and summarily shut the box and set it aside. In another container, we found little hard fried crab snacks filled with sweet cream cheese mixture lightly scented with imitation crab, plucked from the freezer no doubt moments before.

I am not good under pressure. I panic. And this is my punishment. All Malcolm wanted was satay; in this case, a sassy hunk of chicken on a stick, that he reported having some nice flavors, in spite of their sad rubbery appearance. And so it was. The peanut “satay sauce,” served in a plastic cup on the side, was rock-solid frozen. So that was too bad. Finally, my rice. Was. Also. Satisfactory. It was savory, with bits of onion, chicken, and green stuff (basil?). I was starving. And so I slowly ate every mediocre morsel. And then I was sad and bloated forever times infinity. The end.

Epilogue! Turns out, eating lunch with workaday drones in an eighties-era subterranean food court is as depressing as it sounds on paper. Good thing Dawn is awesome. We’re glad we convened for this task and hope to meet again under tastier circumstances. In closing, if you have to eat at Siam Orchid at One City Center, try the tacos, two stands over.

Chiang Mai Two

Chiang Mai on UrbanspoonI just had the best Tom Khar Kai of my life. And I want to tell you all about it. I shall paint you a word picture. Imagine it: a deep cup of light coconut creamy broth that reveals three or four adorable, plump and buoyed mushrooms, big pieces of white chicken, a few glistening onions, and red pepper flakes studding the soup. It is sweet, savory and spicy, hitting every note gracefully. This is comfort food, soup you want to bathe in, then take out to a nice dinner. We’d keep it casual. Just, like, Applebee’s or something. I want to get this soup pregnant. And nine months later, I would eat our delicious progeny with a spoon. This dish alone would be enough to sell me on Chiang Mai Two Thai Restaurant. But the fantastic fact of the matter is almost everything we ordered was absolutely awesome. Let’s start from the very the beginning. It’s a very good place to start.

The restaurant is small, with maybe four booths and a few more tables. The staff is young, and though they appear a teeny bit tough or thuggish, they could not have been sweeter or more attentive to our table. As an aside, the word, “thug” comes to English by way of the exotic subcontinent of India. “Thuggees” were robbers known to strangle their victims. But these kids were nice, seriously! You totally won’t get strangled. It’s cute and cozy inside on a brisk first night of fall. But I don’t think they serve any liquor. Which is troubling, problematic even. I should confirm this. I should fact check this assumption. It could be a lie or misrepresentation. Don’t quote me on this. But I didn’t see any signage for Singha, etc. So….

Here’s where we talk about the food. Ta-da! In addition to the Tom Khar Kai ($3.95) we ordered dumplings (Kanom Jeeb, $4.95) and what are being called “Golden Bags,” (Toong Tong, $4.95). And while I wish the latter had a more mellifluous name – “Celestial Purses of Delight,” perhaps – it doesn’t really matter. Because they taste like heaven. The dumplings, I should begin by saying, were fat and sexy, garnished with sticky bits of fried garlic. Four are in an order. The filling was complex and toothsome. They were substantial yet delicate, like a Honduran hooker with a glandular condition. She has a heart of gold. Thai dipping sauces, I typically find cloyingly sweet. Not for me. These were no different. The bags came with a clear colored plum sauce I wouldn’t write a sonnet for, but neither would I kick it out of bed. Complementing the fried morsel, for a moment I understood the universe. You never know. You might find the face of god in bite-sized fried pinch pots of savory flavor and crispety crunch. Keep an open mind. We devoured both plates quickly, off to an auspicious beginning.

Malcolm, of late, is obsessed with duck. He orders it whenever he can. At Chiang Mai he got duck in yellow curry (Gaeng Karee, $9.95). I chose spicy bean (Pad Prik King) with tofu ($7.95). The worst element of the meal, I am sorry to report, was the duck itself. He attests it was a lot of skin and sort of wiggly, though there were some good meaty bits in there as well. Oh, but the flavor. He specified just one on the heat scale, and it delivered. His dinner was definitely spicy. But rich, complicated and deep. Not picante like rubbing a cut habanero on your gums, hot like a saucy sauna in your mouth. A tiny, steamy room filled with palpable aroma. Ladle more curry on the sizzling rocks for me, please. It was a great dish, though perhaps not quite as bursty as the version at Thai Taste. I may have had my hands in the leftovers earlier today. Caught yellow handed, admitting my own crime, I should be proffered clemency.

My dinner arrived glinting with kicky fried triangles of tofu, the perfect vehicle for soaking up sauce like an isosceles soy milk sponge. The green beans had snap and the carrots were sweet. There was a nutty undertone, earthy and unctuous and orange-hued.. It was a very respectable portion of very good food. Alas, I was so wonderfully full of appetizers and warming soup, I had most of it wrapped up for later. We were super satisfied when we left Chiang Mai Two, sated and surprised and giddy with the unexpected greatness of this humble hidden gem. Happy to have been invited, and happier still to have been turned on to this magical Thai food. My life will never be the same.

Noodles, Here and Elsewhere

Many years ago, when the edges of Union Square were still ragged with homeless kids and civil disobedience, there was a cold corner of extant Communism where we sought refuge from the world outside; this place was called Republic. This was where we met after work and where we went for noodles. On the day of the blackout, after a subterranean march with my subway mates to Astor Place, I hiked to Union Square and waited for Malcolm, whom I never did find (because he was trapped in an elevator), but I did encounter a few aquaintances and made friends from strangers on that hot, lingering afternoon. It is a nexus where things seemed a little brighter in the big city all alone, though I don’t know why. When in doubt on a brisk fall day I hurried toward Republic.

I was ruminating on their noodles last night, after a somewhat disappointing experience at Pom’s Thai Restaurant, wondering just what made them so amazing. Certainly, there is comfort in the eternal bowl of broth and carbohydrates. Certainly, there is healing. Spicy Coconut Chicken was my go-to order and I was never disappointed in its warmth or flavor. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a gulag cafeteria, but with meaner matrons. There was a dun-colored din hovering over communal tables and Mao posters flanking the walls. There was absolutely nothing remotely cozy about the space and yet it was infinitely welcoming. The chairs and bar metallic as the metronomic beating heart of a half -sentient robot from the not too distant future. But I loved it.

I will not remember nearly as fondly my noodle dish last night from Pom’s. On our first visit, while basking in the reflected glow of Malcolm’s whorehouse heat, I muddled through a weak Tom Kha Gai and a remarkably sober drunken noodle. It wasn’t bad Thai food. I had truly, deeply bad Thai food in Rockland last January. There the soup was sewery and the curry rank. This was merely mediocre. And I was happy to go back to Thai Taste after an Old School evening of errands in South Portland, to make Malcolm happy and to try again to navigate the extensive menu and emerge victorious. My plan of attack was based on the noodle theory. The noodle theory clearly states that everything is better when drowned in soup, when slurped from a deeply concave spoon. It may have been disproven.

I selected egg noodles, crispy duck, five spice broth (medium) without peanuts. The broth was the watery link, and pulled down the other elements with it to a shallow grave. I will say that it was faintly aromatic with chopped cilantro and parsley and every other ladle was almost nearly delicious. But there were also odd salty, dishwater tastes that just weren’t, well, good. After a few failed attempts to savor the dish as a whole, I resorted to twisting up the noodles and crunching on the duck sans broth. Those other elements were satisfying and rich. Bloated with regret like a senator at Scores, I drove home in the drizzle, dreaming of other bowls in distant cities. I thought about Republic and all it represented, as I exhort all of you to Think Noodles.

Photo: disneymike

Pom’s Thai Restaurant: Should’ve Skipped Seconds

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.

Poms Thai Restaurant on UrbanspoonWe 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.