Pure Thai Shophouse Makes Me Never Want To Eat At Any Other 9th Ave. Thai Restaurant Again
Usually 9th ave is out-of-bounds from an ML perspective, and the opening of a new Thai restaurant in this area of town is hardly sensational – in fact, there’s no less than 15 Thai restaurants within a 4 block radius of the newly opened Pure Thai Shophouse. But after reading Grub Street’s opening report, and learning of the pedigree of Chef David Bank, who previously worked under Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the Mercer Kitchen, I decided that this would require an out-of-bounds journey. And boy am I glad I made that trip.
A meander down 9th ave in search of Thai sustenance can be overwhelming. One Thai restaurant might cater to customers who prefer to dine amongst garish bubblegum pink décor, while the next Thai venue offers an exclusive ‘secret’ menu to the knowledgeable few with an old copy of the Zagat guide or access to Yelp.com. All serve the same highly fungible crowd pleasing dishes of pad thai, drunken noodles, and curries in various earth toned colors. However, if you’re ever in doubt as to which Hells Kitchen Thai joint to pick for lunch, I’ll suggest that Pure Thai Shophouse is perhaps the only Thai restaurant worth visiting on 9th ave.
The restaurant coyly purports itself to be humble street food – the walls are lined with rustic but handsome wood planks, and the tables are similarly austere. Diners squat on practical plastic stools and absorb a background soundtrack of Thai pop music and an atmosphere so unpretentious it wavers on avant-garde.
Pure Thai’s prices overall are a buck or two lower than their competitors in the neighborhood, though the portions are restrained – think of it as motivation to compose your lunch with multiple items from the menu. Given the portions and prices, you can eat very well and remain under the $10 mark.
I kicked off my lunch with an order of chicken satay ($2.50) from the “Snacks” menu, which came as a duo of diminutive but tender, smoky, earthy chicken. The dish also comes with a dainty bowl of nam chim taeng kwa (cucumber relish), which provides a sweet and sour counterpoint to the chicken.
Another appetizer of chicken curry puffs ($2.50) was perhaps the least successful dish of the meal. More bready than flaky, more flat than flavorful, the clunky puffs needed a good dab of sambal oelek and a generous drag through the accompanying cucumber relish.
The “Pure Thai Noodle” menu is the thing to try if you dine here. These dishes stray from the popular Thai noodle combinations (pad thai, et al) and are more representative of the Chef’s fine dining pedigree. Tender, ethereal ribbons of handmade egg noodles make their way into assertively flavored pork broth in a bowl of Sukhothai pork noodle soup ($6). Sweet slices of roasted pork are nestled amongst crunchy long beans and crumbles of ground pork. And if it couldn’t get any better or porkier, the dish is lavishly topped with crispy pork cracklings. Despite the dizzying amount of complex flavors and textures, the dish is remarkably clean on the palate – It’s a nearly flawless bowl of noodle soup.
The Nakorn Sawan ($6) is definitely not your average bowl of chicken noodle soup. The broth is soy based, and subtlety flavored with Chinese 5 spice. Two meaty chunks of bone on dark meat chicken provide body to the soup, and crunchy bean sprouts and escarole provide texture.
A measured portion of Ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles ($7) is visually striking, pleasantly porky, and surprisingly refined for a bowl of noodles. Crunchy scallions and bitter yu choy work well with the fluffy sweet crab meat. However, my beloved egg noodles suffered mightily in transit (I took this lunch off-site), turning into a gluey clump of starch – I would recommend that this dish be consumed on-site, or a different noodle be substituted.
There’s pad thai ($6) to be had at Pure Thai, though it’s shuffled towards the rear of the menu as if an afterthought. I would encourage lunchers to stick with the more exotic fare and those dreamy egg noodles, but if pad thai must be consumed, then the version here is as good as any. Large swathes of puffy tofu with thoroughly juicy interiors replace the dried out nubs of tofu that most Thai restaurants get away with. And again, the flavoring strikes a delicate balance without being overwhelmed with fish sauce or tamarind.
In keeping with their past successes at Land Thai and Recipe, the Pure Thai Shophouse team outperforms their peers on almost all measurable attributes, whether you’re judging the price, décor, service or flavors. And even though Pure Thai Shophouse is a newcomer to Hells Kitchen, the food is mature and focused, and certainly ambitious for the neighborhood. Reflecting on my past several meals here, I don’t think I ever want to eat at any other Thai restaurant on 9th avenue again. If that endorsement isn’t enough motivation to go out of bounds for a bowl of Thai noodle soup, then I don’t know what is.
Pure Thai Shophouse, 766 9th Ave (btw 51+52nd), 212-581-0999