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Jun 5, 2007 06:01 PM

Thai Market Review

If good Thai food is a lot like a good relationship—spicy, sweet, zesty, and multidimensional enough to keep you on your toes—then Thai Market might just be marriage material.

On our visit last Friday, my three dining companions and I managed to make significant inroads into the menu. We had:

1. Daikon cake (sautéed with spicy soy sauce, bean sprouts and Chinese chives);
2. Por Pia Sod (steamed spring roll, Thai pork sausage, bean sprout, cucumber, smoked tofu, egg and tamarind sauce);
3. Loog Chin Ping (grilled and skewered Thai meatballs with tamarind chili glaze);
4. Moo Ping (grilled skewers of marinated pork—not beef, despite the suggestive name);
5. Pla Meok Ping (grilled squid, sliced, marinated roasted chili);
6. Larb Gai (spicy minced chicken salad with mint, dried chilis, and “green leaves”—which turned out to be cabbage);
7. Skirt steak (marinated, served sliced, sautéed vegetables, jeaw sauce, sticky rice); and
8. Pad Kee Mao (flat rice noodle, chicken, Thai basil, bird’s eye chili, tomato, bok choi).

Without exception, flavors were clearly articulated, well balanced and wonderfully fresh. Although portions were on the small side, ingredients were all top notch. The serving sizes worked well for our tapas-style dining.

The Pla Meok Ping stood out for the lovely texture of the calamari and surprising burst of grilled, barbecued flavor that can only be described as “full.” It hit all the taste buds in my mouth at once. At $3 for three small skewers with two rings of calamari, each, the pla meok was maybe not the best ounce-for-ounce value on the menu. But it was the epitome of a good amuse bouche: a short-lived supernova of perfect flavors to tantalize the tongue and leave you wanting more.

The skirt steak, on the other hand, was one of the best values on the menu at $13. It was a nice sized cut of full-flavored meat, marinated to tenderness, yet treated lightly enough that the natural beauty of the beef could still shine through. If you wanted it, the hot, vinegary green jeaw sauce served on the side was tasty in its own right, but I thought the steak was already perfect on its own. Sides of sautéed baby bok choy and sticky rice steamed in a fragrant banana leaf balanced the dish nicely.

Where pla meok ping teased, daikon cake ($5) satisfied. I swooned over this dish. The Chinese dim sum staple, daikon or white radish cake, is one of my favorite foods of all time, but Thai Market’s version might actually be an improvement. The daikon cake managed to retain a lovely crisp shell, even after stirfry treatment that involved generous amounts of slightly sweet, chili-infused brown sauce (hardly as drab as “spicy soy sauce” might imply) and sprouts. The sprouts added a nice textural counterpart to the soft, crisp-crusted daikon cake, while the chives contributed aesthetic appeal and a rejuvenating green note in the mouth. I’m still nearly speechless at just how good this dish was.

As the only possible down note of the meal, while larb gai and pad kee mao were both competent, they lacked enough of the pungent fish sauce note and sour lime to really achieve their full glory. Either could come as hot as you want it. It’s possible that since we ordered them “medium” hot—it came to us pretty mild; maybe they thought were looked like pansies—the kitchen dumbed down the other flavors, too.

In general, though, compared to the watered-down places we’ve been hitting up out of desperation in the last few years, eating at Thai Market is sort of like emerging in full, Technicolor Oz after living in black and white Kansas your entire life. Marinated ingredients in everything added depth to dishes that one never even noticed was missing, before.

I’m not sure this place needs more discovering given that we had to wait 15 minutes for a table on Friday night (and were told it’d be more like a half-hour wait). The substantial space was packed to the gills. Just in case anyone doubted, though: Thai Market is really, really tasty, and I’d go back. Like tomorrow.

My undying thanks to mjps2 and others on this board who gave me the heads up on the restaurant and on the white radish cake!

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  1. Thanks - I'm going to add it to our list.

    I looked up the address - is this the place?

    960 Amsterdam Avenue
    (between 107th St & 108th St)
    (212) 280-4575

    2 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      That's the one--sorry, I forgot to post the address. They were still BYOB, too, as of last Friday.

    2. Very interesting and good to know. thanks for the info.
      I too have been searching far and wide in NYC for a good Thai resto.
      Have you ever been to Sripraphai in Queens? How would you say Thai Market compares?
      Also, how were the tables set? Fork and spoon or just chopsticks? I'm curious to know.

      13 Replies
      1. re: Gnu23

        I haven't yet had the good fortune to dine at Sripraphai, though my sister, whose discerning tastebuds are, after all, related to my own, says that Thai Market is but a half-notch below.

        I don't remember about utensil setup, but I always eat Thai with chopsticks (especially soft things that tear when pierced with a fork), so the restaurant must either have them available for the asking or set the table with them. Is utensil setup supposed to be indicative of something?

        1. re: cimui

          A half-notch is not too shabby. Thai Market is now on my short list.
          I ask about the utensils because it's sort of an unofficial barometer that I use to gauge how close to "authentic" a Thai place is. In Thailand they only eat noodle dishes with chopsticks, everything else is eaten with a spoon and fork. The fork pushes the food onto the spoon. They don’t put the fork in the mouth–kinda like us not putting a knife in our mouths.
          After traveling in Thailand and seeing this for myself I've discovered that it's actually a pretty efficient way to eat a rice/meat/curry dish. Eating rice w/ chopsticks is a frustrating experience for me. In fact, I wish I could eat with fork and spoon all the time but I would look like a crazy person if I was at Babbo shoveling ravioli in my mouth with a spoon.

          Of course many Thai places in NYC just make assumptions about what we, as Westerners, have come to expect in an Asian resto. So they always lay out chopsticks. Putting a spoon and fork on the table is not necessarily indicative of the quality of the food but, as a rough guideline, I have found that it usually does mean that the establishment is more in line with Thai culinary practices.

          That being said, I still want to check this place out as I have heard from several people that it’s good.

          I did a quick google and I came up with this interesting explanation:

          1. re: Gnu23

            Fascinating, Gnu! I'll have to start paying attention to that!

            Personally, tho, I like digging chopsticks into sticky rice (and coming up with the whole bowl -- sort of like a giant, sticky rice popsicle).

            For the record, at Charm (another good newbie Thai on the UWS on Amsterdam near 93rdish or so), you *do* have to ask for chopsticks. They have knives, too, tho.

            How do diners in Thailand break apart a big hunk of, say, tamarind duck? Or is meat just not served in large hunks there?

            (I don't want to get too OT, here, but sometime, I'm going to have to grill you about where to visit + eat in Thailand. It's high on my vacation hit list.)

            1. re: cimui

              Its still ok to use your fingers. So if you cant break up the meat with a spoon use your fingers. After all thats how your suppose to eat sticky rice. You roll it up in a little ball and eat it. But, thats in thailand. Thai eating habits are more communal when i go to thailand for songkran and visit family theres usually a dish with only one spoon in it. Everyone shares the spoon. Thats family style.

              1. re: mingt

                Thanks so much for the info, mingt. If I may follow up: Are fingers on both hands ok? Do ppl put the spoon in their mouths, or is it more like a serving spoon?

                1. re: cimui

                  Right hand only. As the other hand is reserved for other duties ;)
                  So you dont serve people or touch them with the left hand.

                  People use the spoon to eat but you dont put your lips or tongue on it.

                  1. re: mingt

                    Cool. That's a lot like India. I have friends who can scoop up the last drops of soup in a bowl with their fingers--and even more impressively, do it neatly. When I try to do this, I eat like a five year old Indian kid.

              2. re: cimui

                Hi Cimui. I never tried Charm but I did try Sripraphai and it is superb, somewhere that justifies the hype for a change. Specifically it does great salads (catfish, sausage, watercress options spring to mind, each of which displays an array of zingy Thai flavours) and has an extensive, more regionalised menu which sets it apart. The curry (massaman), I found to be just good rather than great.

                And yes as a food lover you should definitely make a trip to Thailand. I am in Bangkok/Thailand for most of this month and will be writing up a food report most probably as part of an embryonic blog. I've been eating mighty well in the short time I've been here and am in the company of local restaurateur friends which bodes well.

                Happy summer munching in Manhattan.

            2. re: cimui

              Thai Market is pretty good for Manhattan, but I respectfully disagree about it being a half-notch below Sripraphai. It's several notches below. We had some conventional dishes -- som tum (green papaya salad), tom yum koong, gai yang (barbecued chicken), and pad thai, and the flavors -- salty, sweet, sour and spicy -- were simply not as bright and distinct as they are at Sripraphai. But it's a great addition to the neighborhood, as is Charm Thai about 10 blocks down the street.

              1. re: cimui

                Yeh.. I wouldnt go singing the praises of this place that much.. The food is good.. It is in the same range as Land Thai.. Nowehere near as good as Sri.. Not even in the same league as Pam Real Thai.. Its good but, lets keep this place in perspective..

                1. re: Daniel76

                  No way. It's waaaay better than Land!! We're going to have to fight a duel. =)

              2. re: Gnu23

                It is nowhere CLOSE to Sripraphai or Zabb, neither in its reach nor its grasp. Don't get excited. Things were clean tasting, but I don't think it's worth a special trip. I wrote what I thought about it here (I hope this works, not sure how to link):

                Not sure about the table settings, but the place does not seem geared towards Thai tastes.

                1. re: Gnu23

                  Re: utensils -- they do in fact have fork and spoon (haven't asked for chopsticks in my only 2 visits) -- I remember because I was surprised by how big/heavy they were.

                2. "Either could come as hot as you want it. It’s possible that since we ordered them “medium” hot—it came to us pretty mild; maybe they thought were looked like pansies—the kitchen dumbed down the other flavors, too. "

                  That was my experience at Thai Market too.. I ask for the food to be ridiculously hot and it came rather tame and mild.. They have little group of 4 serving bowls they will bring you so you can add extra heat.. My favorite dish were the crepes under the appetizer.. The place is good, great for the area...

                  1. Great review! Can't wait to go ...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: foodmonk

                      cimui, such a fabulous review!!! thanks so much. been meaning to try thai market since i first heard about it. still haven't tried it even though i'm up in the area nearly everyday. i think i'm forgetting it's there but, after your review, i certainly won't .

                      my friend, who has traveled throughout Asia, tried it for lunch and liked it a lot. she's pretty darn happy b/c she lives on w108 and brdwy.

                      anyway, your review had my mouth watering so i must head up there this week. also, i loved the back and forth re chopsticks. same holds true for korean food, i think. i always eat the bibim-bap with chopsticks b/c it almost tastes better like that and despite the struggle with lifting rice on the sticks. i usually slide it under and shovel in whatever hasn't fallen off but i noticed and heard that koreans eat this dish with a spoon.

                      btw, cimui, we eat sticky rice exactly the same way!!

                      lastly, does Sripraphai have a manhattan location or must we head out to woodside? how can i find a menu online? thanks again for the great review.

                      1. re: nativeNYer

                        you'll have to get on the 7 train to Sripraphai in Manh. (in ANY sense) Thai food in nyc...suggest the red curry chicken w/sour bamboo shoots and coconut milk....heat meets's a menu:

                        1. re: drumwine

                          many thanks. since i was raised in middle village, this will definitely be manageable.

                    2. Cimui, I'm so glad you finally ate there and so glad you liked it. Great review!

                      I have eaten here or had take out at least once a week since it opened. It helps that I live on 109th/B'way. The daikon app. is still one of my favorites here, although the calamari is now gaining favor.

                      Regarding utensils - it's fork & knife only, you have to ask for chopsticks.

                      Regarding comparison to Sripraphai - altho I love, love Thai Market, I will admit that it is still several notches down. Not bad for Manhattan, but not nearly the delight of Sripraphai. I agree with mary shaposhnik that it really doesn't come close. That is not to say that Thai Market is not excellent - it just shows how amazing Sripraphai is.

                      Regarding the spice issue - last time I was there, I asked for my som tom to be made spicy, and boy was it ever. My pad kee mao has always been quite spicy too, which I appreciate. But I think they're getting to know me there so maybe they just know that I like spicy.

                      The word is definitely out - I tried to go on Tuesday night and the line was out the door and down the corner. So I headed into Taqueria y Fonda and was just as happy.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mjps2

                        I go here at least twice a week for the lunch special - seven bucks for an appetizer and entree (although you must choose among the limited options given).

                        I haven't tried the daikon cake. I'll definitely check it out (it's not among the lunch options, though).

                        You should check out the red snapper dish (I can't remember the name). It's not a large portion (the portions are generally not large at this restaurant), but it's really very tasty. It's by far my favorite dish at this place.