Pad Thai – Authentic flavors from Thailand
Authentic Asian food is hard to find in Mexico. There seems to be a new “fusion” joint opening every day-- a little of this and a little of that add up to a big nothing. Worse, I have seen the word “Thai” bandied about as a euphemism for the word Asian. A “Thai” style salad at one place had a yogurt dressing! (dairy products are almost non-existent in South east Asia). Another bogus Condesa joint offers Thai dishes featuring soy sauce – anybody who has been to Thailand knows that soy sauce is minimally used there, and only in dishes of Chinese origin.
But something’s different at an unpretentious restaurant called Pad Thai. Bangkok born and trained chef Suphanee Somthaisong (familiarly, and more easily known as Bo) presides over her kitchen. All the dishes on her small menu are authentic Thai recipes carefully prepared using the proper ingredients. The chef, who is married to an American businessman stationed in Mexico, first worked at another Asian restaurant here before opening her own. “My goal is to show Mexico what real Thai cooking can be, using fresh local, as well as the correct imported ingredients”, the chef told me. Although she can find almost everything she needs here, several herbs have to be imported in their dry versions. The chef has plans to grow her own herbs: “I would like to buy some land and grow kaffir lime, galangal, lemongrass and other things that really should be fresh – this would be ideal”. But meanwhile, the food here is as good as it gets. I’ve traveled extensively in Thailand and can report that the chef has achieved her goal. Start with a couple of satays, succulent skewered chicken served with a mildly spicy peanut sauce. Fresh spring rolls, a soft rice crepe containing rice noodles, lettuce, mint, basil and shrimp are light and nicely complimented by their sweet and sour dipping sauce.
Moving on there are two classic soups to choose from: Tom Yum Goong, the spicy/tart shrimp soup in a clear broth, and Tom Kha Gai, made with coconut milk and chicken. Both are perfumed with lemongrass and galangal, a ginger-like root that has its own peculiar flavor and is essential in many Thai soups and curries. The quality of the pad thai (which means, simply, Thai noodles) is a test for any Thai restaurant and here it is correct – the balance of sweet, tart, spicy and salty are synced to perfection.
But best of all are the coconut curries, green and red. I haven’t tasted Thai curries as good since my last trip to Bangkok; subtle and fresh, they are prepared carefully and knowledgeably – no canned paste here.
Order steamed jasmine rice and lemongrass tea, the house specialty and you won’t be disappointed. One caveat: I recommend you request a little more chili if you really want authentic Thai food – ironically, as we are in Mexico, land of chili, the dishes tend to be toned down to accomodate foreign palettes. The chef, who wisely keeps her menu limited, has a much larger repertoire of dishes and will gladly prepare them for large groups. One of my favorite salads, made with shredded green papaya, is not on the menu – the main ingredient is hard to find here in the city. But it, along with such Thai standards as larb (chopped meat salad), and whole fish with lemongrass can be special ordered. Décor is minimal/modern and prices are reasonable – a full meal will be around $150 per person. There is no liquor license as of yet so BYOB. Staff is friendly, but obviously new at the game and so can be a little frazzled when the going gets rough.
Pad Thai is a welcome addition to the restaurant scene and will make aficionados of the real thing happy.
Sonora 49, near Durango
Open daily 1-10 or 11PM