Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pure Thai Shophouse

766 Ninth Ave

Some people call the stretch of Ninth Ave between 56th and 42nd streets, a little Thailand. And it's true that there's at least one and perhaps more Thai joints on nearly every block. But you realize very soon that most of those are either tourist trap versions of what the Thai may think Americans must think of Thailand and Thai food, or mini fast food chains with food akin Chinese greasy-spoon take-outs but more saccharine if not nauseatingly sweet. (Yes, I am talking about you Yum-Yum Bangkok I, and II, and III, and IV, and V).

It would have been a complete waste if it wasn't for some rare exceptions. Won Dee Siam, the one between 52nd & 53rd, and uber trendy Room Service have been satisfying my Thai food cravings with consistently solid if slightly generic menu. Until recently, that is.

Pure Thai Shophouse has opened it's doors in October 2010, and right away became a place to go for excellent and authentic Thai food. As soon as the construction scaffolding came down you could sense the difference. The restaurant brakes the mold with tasteful storefront design that includes a simple type marquee, surrounded by iridescent bulbs, and a sign featuring an iconic elephant. Inside shows the same degree of restraint and good taste. To recreate a feeling of an authentic Bangkok noodle shop the designers used unfinished wooden boards for the walls and old corrugated metal sheets for the ceiling. Not without a number of cute gimmicks, such as pulley suspended tip bucket, Pure is an exercise in maximizing space without sacrificing comfort and functionality, and good taste.

Photo courtesy of Lush Life Productions. © All rights reserved Lush Life Productions

Curiously enough, the design and concept of the place reminded me of one of my other favorite spots called Recipe, on Amsterdam Ave on the Upper West Side. Although entirely different - Recipe serves a version of new American cuisine, with some excellent terrines and pickled vegetables, they both make use of vintage styling and found objects and both of their menus hark back to the do-it-yourself country grocery ethos. As I later found out to my surprise, David who owns and is an executive chef at Pure, also owns Recipe.

But what about the food you ask? Well, in short, It's excellent. To me, it's one of the best restaurants in the city. Period. No matter the cuisine. The combination of taste-to-price-to-quality is simply unbeatable.

First hint that it's not your regular Thai is the amount and power of spice these guys use. They love chilly, and don't try to modify the recipe to appeal to a broader crowd. The waitress will warn you however if the dish is spicy, and her spicy is VERY spicy. She will also love you afterwards if you have enough balls finish it.

Pure does offer some of the Thai stand-bys such as Pad Thai and Pad See Ew. But if you are in the mood for noodles, skip those and head straight for the house specialty - Ratchabury. These home-made egg noodles, a family recipe by the way, come flawlessly cooked with slices of pork and real crab meat in light and fragrant broth. Order it with a poached egg on top.

But I would strongly recommend exploring more original items on the menu. We all had Green Papaya Salad, right? Not really, until you try it at Pure. It's spicy and tangy and explodes with fiery chilly flavor. It comes with dry shrimp, as a true green papaya salad should. But ask to include a salted blue crab (+$2), and you're in for a real treat. The crab is marinated raw in fish sauce, cracked, its top shell removed, and tossed on top of the pile of green papaya. As you suck on the creamy salty flesh, trying to put out the flames in your mouth and, at the same time, shedding tears that are 50% pain and 50% bliss, you're already planning your next meal here. Because that dish is addictive.

Equally addictive and, probably the spiciest item on the menu, is Wok Chili Turmeric With Beef. I have tried a similar dish at Jitlada in LA. There it's called dry curry beef and is a recipe LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold swears by. To my taste Pure's version is better - the balance between the flavors of green peppercorns, kaffir lime, turmeric and hot chilly is mind boggling. Literally. It feels like it burns direct pathways to your brain's addiction centers. You suffer with every bite, but unable to stop. And it's hard to tell wether the speed with which you devour the dish relates to it's actual taste or more to your desire to extinguish the heat engulfing your whole being sooner.

Another fantastic dish on the menu, albeit not spicy at all, is Fried Rice With Lump Crab Meat. This too is a true masterpiece, as I have never tasted rice that fluffy yet chewy, and ingredients so flavorful that you want to just scoop it up with a spoon. For extra kick ask a waitress for a mix of fish sauce and fresh green chillies. And it's guaranteed to send you to heaven.

The wait staff is great and attentive and specials change every three days. Pure bliss this place is.

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