The other day I went to a fairly lavish wedding. There was caviar, lobsters, oysters, and all sorts of opulence. Heck, I even had to not only wear a suit and tie, but also the special shoes that are hidden in the hers and hers closet. The special Hava Nagila shoes! You know, the ones that you only
allowed can take out when there’s Hava Nagila involved. Another words, a big, special event. So we danced, we laughed, we cried, and we met some unexpected familiar faces which was a big surprise since I came expecting to know no one. In fact when someone asked me how I’m related, I said “you know the mother of the bride? I know her boss” Meaning my wife. That’s the only person I knew. But on this day, with all the caviar and all the wonderful things I ate, the best things I ate was fried chicken and grilled marinated pork, just 5 hours earlier at Somtum Der with none other than the Hummus Whisperer.
Somtum Der is the type of place you wouldnt caught me dead wearing Hava Nagila shoes. Meaning she will kill me if I ever attempt this terrible crime. But the place is pretty neat. I normally avoid eating Thai outside of Hell’s Kitchen since Hell’s Kitchen is fairly represented. You want Isan cooking, we got that. You want Ratchaburi, Hell’s Kitchen got that too. But there were two places outside of HK that I wanted to try for a long time. Somtum Der and Uncle Boons. One down, one to go.
Somtum Der is a newish Isan, joining Zabb Elee, Larb Ubol and the great Queens Isan joints. Isan is the historically poor Northeast Thailand region. Normally poor means a lot of seasoning to compensate for the otherwise uneatable meats and fish. Poor = creative = opportunity. Like the folks in Turin, Italy back in the day, who added hazelnuts to chocolates to compensate for the great cocoa shortage, hence opening the doors to Nutella, Ferrero Rocher and every chocolate with hazelnut out there you’ve enjoyed all those years.
This Isan feels different than the rest. The Papaya here is king as the name implies (Somtum means Green Papaya Salad. Der means Dare as in “I dare you Americans to eat our Green Papaya Salad”). In fact, “Papaya King” was replaced in the title by “Hava Nagila shoes” midway through the article. Yes, thats how I operate. Sickening isnt it? But dont worry, I’m seeking help. The menu is filled with 8 papaya salads. Like kindergartners, we chose the one on the menu with the biggest picture, the one that says “Recommended”, while the rest of them either said “Not Recommended” or “Not Obamacare Friendly” (meaning, Thai spicy). Our Tum Thai Kai Kem, papaya salad with salted egg was just right. Just what one would expect from a Papaya Salad. Some traditionalists may expect something more fiery but it was just right.
“Sharing is Caring” is the motto here, eating with forks and fingers, no knives (just like in Laos inspired Khe-Yo. Laos is Isan’s neighbor, sharing some of the dishes and traditions. Papaya salad was actually invented in Laos). The Khao Moo Tod Kratiam Prik, fried garlic pork with jasmine rice and fried egg was good, Sa Poak Kai Tod Der der-style deep-fried chicken thigh was one of the highlights. Moist, juicy, very flavorful, and not greasy at all. Moo Ping Kati Sod grilled coconut milk marinated beef skewers was another winner. “Moo” oddly means pork, not beef, but you can sub it with beef. A tiny bit dry but excellent profound sweet coconut flavors. Perhaps the dish of the day was the Moo Rong Hai Der, house special grilled marinated pork. Fantastic seasoning producing deep lasting flavors, with two coconut rice sticks to help cool things off. Just about each dish came with the house made hot sauce, other than the rice dish which came with fish sauce. The only disappointment was the Sai Krok Isan, fried Isan sausages. Not much flavor, or crunch on those sausages. We tried to revive them with fish sauce, hot sauce, mouth to mouth to no avail
Dont leave without trying their refreshing Lemongrass Juice, and Thai Iced Tee. In that order. They were sadly out of the Taro in Condensed Coconut Milk, but the Thai Tee Panna Catta was surprisingly scrumptious. It tasted just like Thai Iced Tea. Cant wait to try the rest of the picture friendly menu
85 Avenue A
Recommended Dishes: Lemongrass Juice, Sa Poak Kai Tod Der, Moo Ping Kati Sod, Moo Rong Hai Der, Tum Thai Kai Kem