Emporium Thai -- I struck out
Now, I take full responsibility for not ordering exactly the dishes that I've seen listed. Other diners had some spiciness/flavor constraints. But I thought that if I ordered Southern in a Southern restaurant, I would be okay.
Gaeng Som Pla, "thai spicy", $16: this was a thin, sweet curry with chunks of whitefish and pineapple in it (and nothing else). I generally like a little sour funk in my curry, and that's what I was expecting, but this was just...sweet. (And, incidentally, not at all piquant.) The fish was chewy and the pineapple looked and tasted like it was from a can. I ordered this because it was listed in the special section, "6 Southern Thai dishes you shouldn't miss", or something like that, and when I'm dining "constrained" I always make sure to order something just for myself. I tasted it three times, I really wanted to like this dish, or at least finish it, but I just couldn't choke it down. It didn't taste "too strong", it just tasted "sweet" and "bad". I'm sad and a little angry about this one. (picture attached)
Khao Yam, $15: This was rice with vegetables. It had the ones it was supposed to have: kaffir lime, lemongrass, a tiny bit of mango, a lot of bean sprouts. I imagined some dressing on the dish, and perhaps there actually was some. This dish wasn't bad, it was just kind of mild and flavorless and boring. (Also from the "6 southern dishes not to miss" section.)
Southern Chicken Curry, "spicy level 5", $12: I wasn't expecting too much from this dish, but we needed a rich curry and kua kling and fish kidneys were out of the question. It was rich and spicy and it had some turmericey flavor to it and basil leaves. It was good, but nothing special.
Chef's Special Pad Thai, $11: First person to tell me that I'm not supposed to order pad thai at a Southern place gets the stink-eye. Like I said, we had some spiciness/flavor constraints. The pad thai was exactly what you would expect.
So we're out seventy bucks and I'm unlikely to go back. I know that I didn't order from the dishes I've seen listed on CH, and that's my bad, but I don't think it's too much to ask that out of 3 Southern dishes picked at random at a Southern restaurant, at least one of them should be impressive.
That Gaeng Som Pla (แกงส้มปลา) sounds and looks like how it's prepared in Bangkok...watery & sweet. This dish is supposed to be a thick curry and sôm(ส้ม) or sour. In the south, if you're going to sour it with pineapple it should be unripe pineapple.
The Khao Yam (ข้าวยำ) doesn't sound right, the dressing is supposed to have fermented fish sauce (budu/บูดู) also found in neighboring Malaysia, which has a strong flavor and you would definitely notice it. In central Thailand, a lot of cooks use the milder shrimp paste.
Is this place really a southern Thai restaurant or is it just a marketing ploy for gullible westsiders?