In the land of the new and exciting, its often easy to overlook the established and proven. The “What’s new” questions on social media by people that visited the city once or twice before have always been a mystery to me. Did you try any of the other 99.9%, like Pig and Khao, Minetta Tavern, Popina, etc etc. Are they stale? What exactly is wrong with them? There’s always something new and exciting, but the real question is who will make it past year one, or year ten. 60% fail in their first year, 80% fail within five, and very few make it to 10.
The Z-List Thai staple Somtum Der not only keep soldiering on in the East Village but is now doing it in Red Hook, Brooklyn. While East Village is ultra competitive as I keep saying for years due to the lack of tourists and abundance of students, opening in no-train Red Hook is just another level of Chutzpah. Generally Thai restaurants in Red Hook and neighboring Columbia Street Waterfront District (because real estate firms havent come up with a cute 2 syllable name) dont last very long. See Pok Pok, Krok .
Somtum Der was one of the first to introduce New Yorkers to fiery Isan food when it opened in East Village a decade ago. That was only a year after opening in Bangkok. Both places are in the Michelin guide if you care about such things. In fact the East Village location even got a Michelin star that lasted a whole 5 minutes. The new Red Hook location has exactly the same menu, with pictures. If you dont like menus with colorful pictures, you are probably not enjoying life to the fullest. If we were to give awards to menus with the most vibrant pictures, Somtum Der would be an easy three Kodak recipient.
While Somtum is known for the various namesake papaya salads, I der you to find a more flavorful bird in NYC. Just seeing the picture on the menu for me is like a kid hearing the ice cream truck. Along with the marinaded pork with the soothing sticky rice lollypops, the fried chicken thighs is a usual must. The thing about Somtum Der is that they can take any old, stale, dry meat or fish, and make it taste amazing. Thats not to say that its the type of meat we usually encounter here, but that’s the type of seasoning and marinades they use. Its sort of what Isan food is all about. Preserving meat and fish in historically poor areas.
Its also worth noting the weekly specials, in particular the sickest mushroom salad I ever had, Goi Hed. (invented by someone who thought the Beech mushrooms reminded them of uncircumcised penises). Out of the regulars, last time in Brooklyn we also enjoyed the garlic beef with rice, and a serviceable Pad Thai. My first Pad Thai in maybe 20 years. Blame the pictures.
The cool thing about the Brooklyn location is that it has a lovely garden that feels like you are in a neighbor’s BBQ. Another plus is that its in the heart of Red Hook, walking distance to the legendary Steve’s Key Lime Pie, an important former stop on my Brooklyn tour (RIP). I go straight for the raspberry Swingle these days. Might as well also check out the Merchant Stores Building next door. If it doesnt work out with Mrs Z, my next wedding venue will be at the The Liberty Warehouse. But next month will be 30 years, so who really knows…
85 Avenue A (East Village)
380 Van Brunt St (Red Hook)
Recommended Dishes: Fried Chicken, Marinadet grilled pork, Mushroom salad (special), Garlic beef