960 Amsterdam Avenue
(between 107th St & 108th St)
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.