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Nov 9, 2010 08:18 AM


After 2 months of French cuisine, Mme L. and I had a craving for Thai food, donc, I did a search on CH and found a recommendation of Sukothai near Pl. de l’Italie. This was not just an ordinary old recommendation but a ringing endorsement by my one of my 2 CH culinary heroes, Souphie ( the other being the encyclopedic Ptitpois). That clinched it, I immediately called for reservations the next day.

When we arrived, a few negative vibrations emanated; the room was less than ½ full, there were zero diners with a discernable trace of Asian ancestry, the tables were set with knives and forks (there were also those industrial, break apart chop sticks) and the menu was the size of the Manhattan phone book with a whole section in the back of Chinese food, not necessarily a bad thing. Aware of Souphie’s culinary credentials, I refused to lose hope. Mme L.’s entrée was a rather good salade de boeuf which was wonderfully spicy, although this was not mentioned on the menu. My entrée was a passable salade de gambas à la citronelle although the shrimp were less than firm. About here things started deteriorating; Mme’s main course was shrimp in coconut milk, a generous serving but the shrimp had the limp, tastelessness I associate with too long thawed out frozen product. I crave spiciness and thus had ordered sautéed pork, which the menu stated as “epicé”…wrong, wrong, wrong… this was milder than a Quaker wedding and the thin strips of meat were totally indistinguishable in taste or texture from chicken. Normally about here I would have politely feigned satiety and requested the check, but the wife, who I always obey, loves banana beignets. They appeared looking about as good as these things can look, but after one bite she noticed that the beignets had been unmistakenly fried in oil overly redolent of fried meat. My order was to have been fresh mango but the nice waiter informed us that they were not available and suggested fresh pineapple instead. This was nicely presented and since we were there last week, it may now be ripe, but at the time it was served, it was not.

What conclusions can I draw? Perhaps this Sukothai on Rue Guerin was not the same one; maybe it has been a while since Souphie has been there; perhaps this was a diversion from normal and was just a bad day, which I know can often happen. Anyway, this was our experience last Thursday, and I will await some recent CH endorsements before going back.

Below is a photo of the "Quaker Pork"

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  1. Sorry about that. A new visit is in order.

    1. Your report sounds quite like my two experiences of Sukhothai. I found the place to be disappointing not to say worse, filed it under the rich "failed Thai in Paris" category and did not give it any more thought until it showed up here again. I did not react, not wanting to be a party pooper. Now I sort of feel sorry I didn't.
      Though there may be exceptions, Paris does not do Central Thai food really well. You're better off with one of the Isan and Lao places, like Lao Thai, Lao Viet and Lao Lane Xang (I and II). That may be because of France's historical ties with Laos.
      I went to Krung Thep once (rue Julien-Lacroix, 20th) and it was very satisfactory. Chez Paï (rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière) was a good Thai take-out with a few chairs but I am not sure it is still going on.
      By no means should you ever enter the Paradis Thai on rue de Tolbiac. The food is not just bad, it is foul.

      1. "the tables were set with knives and forks (there were also those industrial, break apart chop sticks)" - Thai food is generally eaten with cutlery not chopsticks, often a spoon and fork. In some respects the chopsticks are the more worrying aspect (this along with the Chinese dishes very different cuisines).

        19 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          Thai table manners : fork and spoon indeed, but no knife. And chopsticks for noodle dishes, especially noodle soups (of Chinese origin). Maybe the owners of Sukhotai are not so much to blame for the break-apart chopsticks. I am pretty sure a lot of diners asked for them.

          1. re: PhilD

            In my experience travelling in Thailand, indeed the use of chopsticks is not originally Thai nor is it horrifying taboo either.

            1. re: Parigi

              "the use of chopsticks is not originally Thai"
              Really, hummm, when Colette and I met in Thailand on my RnR, she came early and was met by an Army friend and suddenly presented with the choice of chopsticks or starvation.

              "failed Thai in Paris"
              I'll play the "good old days card," back in 1987-9 there was a terrific Thai place near me that I raved about because it was genuinely Thai but used French meat, vegetable & seafood, albeit with Thai spices, herbs, etc. It's an easy enough formula.

              1. re: Parigi

                Only with noodle soups served in a bowl. But in this case they must be there.

                There are chopsticks in Thai restaurants in France because the clients equate chopsticks with Asian food and so they ask for them, even if the restaurant does not serve noodle soups.
                Also I believe there is more use of chopsticks in Laos than in Thailand, and many Thai restaurants in Paris are actually run by Lao people and specialize in Isan food.

                John: good or bad, do you think other Thai restaurants use non-French meat, vegetable and seafood? What made that restaurant so special?

                I forgot to add a few words about some quite good Thai food in Paris: I haven't tried the hyper-jetset Thiou joints (several addresses) which seem to be to Thai food what Davé is to Cantonese food, and I am always suspicious of "Tout-Paris" restaurants, but I hear good things about Madame Shawn, on rue Yves-Toudic.

                Of course there is Oth Sombath, which I highly recommend, though it is expensive. Former chef at Le Banyan, began at the Blue Elephant, he sure knows his Isan food though IMO he uses a tad too much palm sugar on his dishes.

                1. re: Ptipois

                  "John: good or bad, do you think other Thai restaurants use non-French meat, vegetable and seafood? What made that restaurant so special?"
                  I really don't know Pti, my only guess is that due to its location (Rue du Ruisseau) no one but locals came and they just saw themselves as a local joint, no big deal.

                  "Madame Shawn, on rue Yves-Toudic."
                  Yah I've heard good things too.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    "what Davé is to Cantonese food"

                    O yeah what's that about. I was invited therefore did not dare say a thing but whew.

                    1. re: Parigi

                      Purely and simply one of the Great Mysteries of the Universe.

                    2. re: Ptipois

                      "Oth Sombath, which I highly recommend, though it is expensive. Former chef at Le Banyan, began at the Blue Elephant,"
                      That explains why they went downhill. Boy you learn a lot here.

                      1. re: John Talbott

                        The Blue Elephant really has had a myriad of chefs. Young Thai chefs recruited in Bangkok by the Belgian-staffed head office were trained then dispatched to the several European addresses (Brussels, London, Paris) to run the kitchens. There was a rather fast turnover (I don't know where things are standing now) which explains the fluctuations in quality at any Blue Elephant restaurant over the years. It can be terrific or terrible depending on who's in charge at the moment but the BE head chefs did create some terrific fusion recipes like the larb-style salmon tartare and the delicious durian cheesecake.

                        1. re: Ptipois

                          "larb-style salmon tartare"

                          Can you describe in a little more detail?

                          1. re: mangeur

                            A salmon tartare prepared in the way of the Northern Thai (Isan, also Lao) larb salad: the only difference is that larb is served warm. Diced salmon, shallots, cilantro, lemongrass, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime juice, ground roasted rice.

                            When it was served to me at the BKK Blue Elephant it was merely named "tartare de saumon".

                        2. re: John Talbott

                          Does anybody still go to the Blue Elephant for the food? I live a block away and it's on the ignore list.

                          1. re: Busk

                            It's all a matter of how long you haven't been there. As I wrote above, depending on who runs the kitchen at the time, it may be good or not. I can't tell more since the last time I was at the Paris BE was in the late 20th century.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              I can only say that whoever was there the academic year 1991-2 cooked up some mean stuff.

                                1. re: Ptipois

                                  So can we empower you to go over there monthly and report?

                                  1. re: John Talbott

                                    I might... but I am somewhat hesitant.
                                    In the meantime, I recommend Oth Sombath to play safe. His desserts are yummy, if anyone's interested.

                    3. re: PhilD

                      Thanks for the info Phil, what would I know, as the closest I have been to Thailand is Los Angeles? its just that most Thai places in the U.S. that I frequent do furnish sticks. Good to know, as we hope to travel there one day if and when the political situation stabilizes, and I am much more facile with a spoon and fork than chopsticks!

                      1. re: Laidback

                        When I was in thailand for 2 weeks on a press tour, they took us to restaurants big and small; one of the photographers in our group only used chopsticks to eat at home and wherever else he could get them, some of the larger restaurants managed to produce chopsticks on request, but most of the smaller restaurants didn't even have them. So if you're good with spoon and fork, it works out!