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Feb 19, 2008 02:43 PM

Rhong-Tiam (formerly Penang)

Has anyone been to this Thai place that is on the west side of Washington Square Village? It was formerly Penang and even though it claims to be authentic, I never paid much attention to it until I picked up a take out menu. There are some interesting dishes that are not usually offered. They have a version of Chinese watercress salad (ala Sripraphai) and Yen Ta Fo.

Has anybody tried it yet? I can imagine two possibilities. The more likely one is that it's only okay or you have to beg them to make it thai spicy. The unlikely one is that they are authentic and that they will be closed before too long.

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    1. I can't believe there's no posts about Rhong-tiam Thai on Laguardia between Bleecker and W 3rd st. yet! Yelp's kicking our butts on that one with 14 posts about it! C'mon Chowhounders, I expect you to be on the bleeding edge. :-)

      Well, I'll start it off. I went there last night since I found on menupages that they serve Khao Soi (that'll be reviewed on my khao soi blog soon enough), and I was blown away in several meanings of the word!

      This apparently used to be part of the Penang chain of restaurants and is still under the same owner, as evidenced by the chopsticks wrappers that still said Penang on them, and several Malaysian dishes like Mee Goreng and Pineapple Achat that I plan to try when I go back because those are often great and my favorites at other Malaysian restaurants.

      This place has a beautiful setting, and could even by used as a dating kind of place and must be especially nice when you can eat outside on the front deck. It wasn't very packed when I went, but it was late (10 PM) on a rainy Monday night, so not too surprising, and they said they've only been open for 5 months.

      We ordered tofu Khao Soi (of course), Tom Yum Gai (lemongrass soup), and Yum Pla Dook Foo (grated fried catfish and fresh mango, red onion served w/ a sweet lime chili sauce), and fresh lemonade. The food came very quickly and immediately smelled great and looked scrumptious, but soon had us begging for some brown rice to chill out the chili flames burning in our head. I love hot food just as much as the next person, having lived in Peru, home of one of the hottest chilis, the Rocoto tree chili (, but especially the catfish was smoke-out-of-the-ears inducing, though addictive.

      The crispy fried nutiness of the grated catfish went really well with the tangy juicy green mango salad. The soup though we ordered Tom Yum seemed to come as Tom Kha since it had coconut milk in it but we forgot to ask in our heat-induced trance, and it was delicious anyway with a nice balance of sourness, not overly sweet as this dish often is. The Khao Soi was killer, up there with the best in Manhattan and all of NYC, including all the tasty toppings.

      When I asked the waiter if all their dishes were standardly this hot or if it was just because we asked for more obscure dishes that he thought we'd enjoy the heat, he said they are always like that, and now that I look back at the menu ( I see that the catfish and the Tom Yum are marked as spicy.

      I'd say if we can collective get this placed filled up, that Rhong-Tiam is aiming to be a great, authentic Thai place, definitely the best in Manhattan, and it may even surpass (gasp!) Sripraphai!

      541 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012

      8 Replies
      1. re: ephramzz

        Weird that there are no follow-ups to such a great posting. Maybe everyone simply went there and ate (in which case I'm wondering why there are no follow-up reports).

        Great job, ephramzz. I also enjoy your blog!

        1. re: Jim Leff

          Just caught this post now. Thanks, Jim, for bringing it to the head of the boards.

          I love khao soi, and haven't really found a decent place that matched what I had in Chiang Mai. Will definitely order it when I check the place out. Thanks, ephramzz!

          1. re: Jim Leff

            There have definitely been other threads about Rhong-Tiam, Jim. I replied to one to let people know to avoid it at lunch time, because I believe the kitchen crew is more paint-by-numbers at that time, and you won't get a good meal except perhaps by mistake.
            BTW, Miss Needle, I like Sripraphai's Khao Soi quite a bit.

            1. re: Peter Cuce

              Thanks. I'll try it at Sripraphai as well. I usually get so tempted by the other stuff (jungle curry, soft-shell crabs, drunken noodles, etc.) it's hard to try the other foods.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                I get into sripraphai ruts, too. solution is to go with a largeish group and don't make suggestions. do that 2-3 times and you can really make inroads into the menu....

            2. re: ephramzz

              Thanks for the excellent review. We have a branch of Penang in central NJ and used to frequent it until several years ago when every dish became so bland . Then we would make a trip into the city and eat at Nyonya, but it too is becoming quite bland to our taste.So I have high hopes for Rhong-Tiam and can' t wait to sample the menu. Thanks again.

            3. I actually went to Rhong-Tiam again last friday and it was excellent once again, though still not so crowded. Rainy still, so I hope that's the only reason, becauseĀ  we've got to get this place filled up to make sure it stays around as a tasty Lower Manhattan Thai place!

              I was taking a friend who's heading to Chiang Mai there, so we had Khao Soi again, eggplant with bamboo shoots (that had Krachai in it, a bitter ginger relative which I see very rarely in US Thai restaurants), and the Malaysian Pineapple Achat which was great. The Achat, a sort of dry chutney with fresh fruit, is probably a hold over from their Penang days, but nice to see on the menu, super tasty, and the waiter kindly warned me that was a Malaysian dish. They were also very nice when I asked them what the unfamiliar bitter taste in the eggplant was, and the chef himself came out and talked to me about it. I'm not sure I'd order that dish again since I have an aversion to super bitter things (can't drink coffee), but still innovative and someone might like it. It was at least a nice contrast to the sweetness of the Achat.

              I gotta get my review out there since it wasn't so crowded for such a great place on a friday night.

              1. They had a spicy tasting challenge going on a couple of months ago, I believe. Anyone know if that's been extended beyond the April 15 end-date? My g/f and I wanted to do it but couldn't get our act together in time.

                1. so ate an early dinner here tonight w/ my GF...bottom line, i agree with the assessments that this place is good. Luckily its close to my place, so long with Zabb City, this is going to be one of my go to thai places

                  Here's what we got:
                  - roti canai - i know this is a holdover dish from Penang days, but I gotta say that it was very good, roti was nice and crispy and the curry sauce was good. In fact this was better than I've had at any of chinatown malay places
                  - papaya salad - this was decent not great, Zabb City's is much better, it was reasonably spicy although i prefer it a bit spicier, it wasn't as sour as Zabb's and I like it more sour (i.e. more pickled tasting) and I believe they may have fish sauce in this dish b/c you could definitely taste something that tasted like fish sauce, the tomatoes and shrimp were good quality which was nice (i hate when they skimp and use crappy ingredients)
                  - khao soi - WOW! this was great, the curry soup base was so good, great flavor, not too salty or overflavored with any one ingredient, such a great creamy taste. Loved both the regular and crispy noodles, chicken was so nice and tender. This dish alone is the reason why id come back...just like zabb where i go back for the laab and the papaya salad, i will be coming back to Rhong-Tiam for the Khao Soi

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Lau

                    I just came back from Rhong-Tiam. It's a lovely restaurant but overall I'd have to term it a disappointment.

                    Three of us ordered the roti canai, papaya salad, grilled catfish with Thai Eggplant in Chili sauce, khao soi, and pad see ew (listed as Chow Fun on the menu).

                    I didn't think any of the dishes were unqualified masterpieces. The roti canai and khao soi were marred, I think, by too much coconut milk. There wasn't enough spice (and I'm not referring to heat, here) in the curry sauce; similarly, creaminess was the main impression of the khao soi -- even the pickled vegetables and numerous squirts of lime were enough to provide sufficient acid notes. Both were good, but the khao soi, in particular, I didn't think was exceptional, although the chicken was much better than average.

                    The pad see ew was pronounced "very good" by the ten-year-old, who in the future might start a blog on his quest for this dish. He's rather territorial about his food, so I only got a forkfull.

                    The catfish seems to be grilled and then fried in a wok. There was way too much of one spice element, which had a fennel/anisey taste. Like the papaya salad, it was also too sweet to my taste.

                    Gee, this sounds harsh. I'd definitely go back, but based on the one meal, I don't think Rhong-Tiam was as good as Wondee, let alone Zabb or Sripraphai.

                    This wasn't a unanimous opinion. The other friend, although she was disappointed with the papaya salad and couldn't eat the catfish dish for the reasons I described, she loved the pad se ew, the roti canai, and the khao soi.