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Restaurant Review January 29, 2008
 
Thaitanium Taste Buds
By Tofer Lamont Browse author
 
 

We hate to beat a dead elephant here, but there's nothing more frustrating than taking a provincial Moscow chick for her first non-sushi Asian meal. It doesn't matter whether it's Vietnamese or Indian, Chinese or Thai. Any girl raised to think mayonnaise is one of the four food groups is going to sniff at good Asian food and make a "who farted?" expression before taking a nibble and declaring it too spicy by a factor of 20, even if you can barely taste the spices yourself. Yasha has written in this space about his own favorite case of dyev spice-aphobia, and so has just about every eXile food critic ever (with the exception of Peter Arenseberg, who was either asexual or into young boys, we're still not sure.) Me, I'll never forget the time I took a certain Masha to Tandoor in the Novinsky Passage mall and dropped a week's salary so she could tell me that the samosa burned her tongue, that saag paneer looked like cow cud, and that gulab jamun was way too sweet. This, after I managed to force down some cold-fish-and-shredded-beets dish on our first dinner date.

After sushi, Thai seems to have firmly implanted itself as second choice for Asian food in Moscow. How could this be, you ask, with all those red pepper warning symbols that mark Thai menus? I can think of a few possible reasons for the surge in interest and tolerance. The first is the watered down version of Thai that pops up in so many Moscow fusion menus that use accents of the cuisine for color; a sort of massaged stealth insertion of Thai into the Russian palette. The second is the popularity of Thai massage. The third is the fact that so many Russians go there on vacation, where they eat fast food the whole time, then return feeling guilty that they never even tried the street noodles. Whatever the reason, it appears we may be on the cusp of a Thai boom, and the latest entrant is Thai Kitchen on Pokrovka.

A ground-level one-room restaurant just a short walk from the Kitai Gorod restuarant, Thai Kitchen has a dark cozy vibe drenched in red. Tropical underwater scenes unfold on plasma screens against walls that in the fog of memory seem to be made of velvet. The décor details are hard to make out in the dark, but it's one of those places that encourages intimate conversations, even if you're sitting across from your plumber. The downsides are the place can fill up fast, and with a 11 p.m. closing time, it's not much of a late dinner spot.

As for the food, it's not the best Thai in Moscow (that mantle still rests with The Blue Elephant) but the mid-range price is right and it comes close enough to the real deal to earn a return trip, especially if it's in your 'hood. The Thai side of the menu is longer than you'd expect from the size of the place--a full six pages!--and the herbs and the spices seemed remarkably fresh. The only problem with my meal was that Tom Yum Goong (shrimp lemongrass soup) showed up very salty. (Putting the dish to the side, I couldn't help but think of the delicious coconut and shrimp soup at Solyanka, which I wrote about last month.) I didn't check the kitchen, but I find it hard to believe that a Thai chef would put this much salt in the signature Thai dish. Better to overplay the spicy, sour or sweet elements in Thai--never the salty side. But the other basic dishes, like the Pad Thai and Pad kee mao noodles, were prepared exactly right. The rice is good and sticky here and the nam prik sauce packs a punch. Afterward, I promise you the banana in coconut milk will cool you down and bring you to within inches of a deep dark sleep.

All of which adds up to a welcome new mid-range joint at which to get spicy food at a decent price. This Thai won't blow your mind, but it's part of a trend in progress, and we'll take it.

THAI KITCHEN

Pokrovka Ul. 4

11.30 - MIDNIGHT

Metro: Kitai Gorod


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