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Feb 1, 2014 08:12 AM

Somtum Der – Great New Isaan Style Thai, But Hold The Somtum

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Somtum Der is one of the latest additions to NY’s explosion in Isaan style Thai food with restaurants like Zabb Elee, Larb Ubol etc. It’s kind of a weird because it’s a food that most NYers had no idea what it was until the last few years and then it just exploded. If you had asked me I wouldn’t have thought it would’ve caught on given its pretty spicy food which generally doesn’t work well against an American palate. However, luckily I would’ve been dead wrong and now we have all this delicious food available.

Isaan is an area in northeast Thailand and Somtum Der is actually the NY branch of a Bangkok based restaurant, which is sort of funny because it’s a transplant of a transplant. Isaan food is quite a bit different than the southern curries that most Americans associate with Thai food. Instead it has a lot of salad type of dishes and various things like sausages, grilled meats etc.

The inside of the restaurant is dimly lit and fairly nice with all wood interior and long wooden tables. There is also a station with all their ingredients laid out and a guy who is mashing them to make various dishes such as their somtum. The menu is helpful with lots of pictures and descriptions. The wait staff is generally pretty friendly although I’ve noticed that when it gets busy they get overwhelmed and the service can be disjointed at times like that.

Tum Thai Kai Kem
I’m going to start with the disappointing stuff here and the somtum dishes despite being the restaurant’s namesake fall into this category. This is spicy papaya salad with salted egg. The flavors fell pretty flat here; the normal slightly sweet, sour and spicy flavors all tasted a bit muted and I thought the salted egg would add another dimension, but it didn’t really do much for the dish. It was ok, but not something I would order again. 6.75/10

Tum Kor Moo Yang
This is spicy Papaya Salad mixed with grilled pork neck meat. This was better than the tum thai kai kem, but still wasn’t that great. The flavors were a bit better and the grilled pork neck meat was decent, but again really nothing special. 7.25/10

Larb Moo
This is spicy minced pork salad with green vegetables and chilis. This was kind of bland, it wasn’t spicy enough and just generally wasn’t that flavorful. 6.5/10

Larb Ped
This is spicy minced duck salad with green vegetables and chilis. This was definitely better than the larb moo although it was just alright on an absolute basis; for some reason they made it spicier and also a bit more flavorful, which helped the dish. 7.25/10

Moo Rong Hai Der + Khao Ji
Now that we’ve gotten through the duds, let’s get to the stars. The pork is grilled with a thick layer of this spiced dry rub that is really delicious; it’s spicy, salty and has a semi-smoky flavor that is great. The sauce it comes with is salty, sour and spicy and compliments the dish nicely. It also comes with sticky rice that has been grilled that is a bit buttery in flavor and goes really well with it. 8.5/10

Sa Poak Kai Tod Der
This is “Der styled” deep fried chicken thigh, the chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and very tender on the inside and isn’t greasy at all. The sauce that is comes with is bit spicy, salty and sweet. This is a good dish. 8.25/10

Moo Ping Kati Sod
This is grilled coconut milk marinated pork skewers. The pork is tender and a bit of charred on the outside and the coconut milk has a slightly creamy coconut-y flavor. It’s served with rice noodles and the same sauce as the moo rong hai der. It’s very good. 8.25/10

Yum Tra Krai Sardine
This is sardines mixed with lemongrass, tomato sauce, herbs and spices in chili dressing. It’s salty, sour and spicy with big chunks of sardines. Silverjay on chowhound told me the first time he had it was served differently as the sardines were different and weren’t these big chunks. It was decent, but I didn’t love it. 7.5/10

Goong Chae Nam Pla
This is prawn sashimi with green chili sauce and is probably my favorite dish here. The shrimp meat is slightly sweet as prawn sashimi typically is. The sauce is the spiciest thing I’ve had here and is spicy, sour and salty. It really compliments the shrimp nicely. Also if you don’t like really spicy food, I’d suggest taking peppers off as they are what is really spicy about the dish. 8.5/10

Yum Crispy Leaf Fish
This is chunks of crispy leaf fish in a spicy dressing. This is another one of my favorite dishes here, the chunks of fish are crispy and the dressing is spicy, sweet, salty and sour. It also has these vegetables which I’m not sure what they are and they look kind of like onion; they are really delicious with a unique flavor which is hard to explain. I highly recommend trying this dish. 8.5/10

Black Jelly With Fresh Milk
This is chunks of shaved ice with small bits of black herbal jelly and milk that is sweetened and this brown powder on top. It was alright, but wasn’t really what I was expecting. 7.25/10

Taro In Condense Coconut Milk
This is a warm sweet coconut milk soup with mochi taro balls. The soup is sweet, salty and creamy and the mochi are very tender and I believe uses real taro as it tastes like taro. This is really good and I highly recommend getting this. 8.5/10

Overall, I really like this place if you order the right dishes and stay away from their somtum and larb. This is a great addition to NY’s Thai scene.

85 Ave A
New York, NY 10009
(212) 260-8570

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  1. Thanks for the report. I've been thinking about going and it's great to know what is worth ordering and what is not. On the whole, how would you compare to Zabb, which we love?

    Also, you mention "long wooden tables". Does that mean it's communal seating? I really don't care for that. If there are 2 of us I want a table for 2.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rrems

      its different than zabb elee bc the dishes that are good at somtum der are very different than what is good (and available) at zabb elee, which is great bc you'll have totally different food

      no its not communal seating

      1. re: Lau

        Finally got there, and I'd give it mixed reviews. The seafood suki was delicious, the best dish we had, well-spiced and tasty. Deep-fried chicken thighs were a close second. Great flavor and crunch, and the sauce was just right. However, the other 2 dishes were disappointing. Leaf fish, which I had never had before, is literally the thickness of a leaf, so it was nothing much more than fried batter. The sardines were out of a can. Both these dishes were properly spicy but not very interesting. We were seated at a 2-top, but if it were busier you could end up at one of the long tables, sitting on a hard wooden bench, not my idea of comfortable dining. It was also very loud.

        We will go back and try more dishes (Moo Rhong Hai Der sounds interesting), but overall I think Zabb offers better food and much more variety, in a more comfortable setting.

    2. Nice review Lau. I went a couple of weeks ago. Really enjoyed those coconut pork and the fried chicken.

      We had the Som Tum Ploopara which I thought was good. They warned me and I let them know of my love for ploopara. I thought the flavor was good but was kind of annoyed that it wasn't a full crab but rather just legs which you had to suck the meat out of. I much prefer the half raw crab you get at Zaab.

      The raw shrimp I thought was ok. I prefer the Sripraphai version better.

      I didn't get the sardines as my companion doesn't like them. Was it the size of te sardines that you didn't like? Would a sardine freak like myself enjoy the dish?

      FWIW I ordered everything as a three and thought the spice level was strong but not completely over powering.

      5 Replies
      1. re: MVNYC

        ill give the somtum ploopara a try, but ive just found the seasoning to be underwhelming and somewhat bland in their som tum so far

        ill try the sripraphai version, but i really like the raw shrimp here although it seems like most people on chowhound dont like it as much as me based on the reviews ive read

        well the sardine filets were quite big, i was suprised how big they were and they were a bit dry which i shouldve added think canned tuna texture. i like sardines alot, but they would need to use better sardines for me to rate this dish higher

        ive generally been telling them to make stuff spicy bc i find their base spice levels to be rather low

        1. re: Lau

          From reading around and cooking a lot of Thai food this past year, I've learned that a homestyle dish is often made with canned mackerel (the kind often with tomato sauce), sardines, and/or tuna. So the Yum Tra Krai Sardine dish is a riff off of that. The first couple of times I had it, the sardines were more like marinated filets. Last couple of times, including that time with you, they were bigger drier chunks.

          The main thing to know about the sardine and the leaf fish dishes are that they are lemongrass dishes (tra krai is Thai for lemongrass). So head for these if you enjoy the fragrance of lemongrass...

          I prefer the shrimp dish at both SPP and Ayada, but SSD's version isn't bad or anything.

          ...The Taro In Condense Coconut Milk is a good rec.

          1. re: Silverjay

            yah its got alot of lemongrass which i like, i think the drier chunks and sort of tomato-y sauce that im not crazy about, but i do love the lemongrass in the sardine and leaf fish dish

            sounds like i need to try the shrimp dish out in queens soon

          2. re: Lau

            So I went this weekend and got the somtum with salted egg and would agree that this wasn't that good. The ploopara was much much better.

            Sardines were definitely canned but the dish was still good. I eat a lot of sardines and these were a good quality for canned.

            1. re: MVNYC

              yah they're not bad at all, but could be better

        2. Don't give up on the somtum here too quickly. I've been here four times now, and each time the somtum was slightly different. Perhaps because every person makes it slightly different, and it can vary from day to day. "A pinch of this, a handful of that" - I don't think anything is measured precisely. As I said in another Somtum Der thread, one time (at lunch) the somtum seemed pre-made to me (it might have just been my impression, and not correct, because somebody was working the somtum station). I'm sure you know to ask for the desired amount of chiles (from zero to five) which will get you to the desired level of heat. Last time I got three chiles, next time I'll get four! Unlike some restaurants who don't specialize in somtum, the chiles here are fresh, not dried… big difference.

          I like their somtum a lot, and I will defend it! LOL.

          1 Reply
          1. re: K2000

            its not the spice level im talking about, the seasoning just tasted under done and just not up to the flavor profile of better versions ive had, but i go here somewhat regularly so i can try again

          2. Thanks a lot for the report and also the remarks on what to consider avoiding. I'll be sure to check this place out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Pan

              cool, let me know what u think