In the best of the
dishes, every seasoning stand out like a tiny solo yet blends with the
others. It’s like jazz, each instrument having its moment. An appetizer
of yum woon sen—clear noodles with shrimp and pork—dances on your
tongue, its ginger, garlic, chilies, coriander and lime darting and
soaring over your taste buds. Nam sod, a ground-pork variation of larb
gai, mingles the juicy meat with the crunch of peanuts and an explosion
of spices that release as much flavor as heat. Satays are not just
skewered pork or chicken, they are the plat-form for a remarkable peanut
sauce withhigh note of sweetness and fire. And peninsula yum yum is a
platter of scored curls of squid, a few shrimp and scallops ruddy with
chili paste, with riffs of seasoning. Another day, though, the food is
ordinary: mere talk, not music. Fried crispy roll are bland cabbage
packets, papaya salad is lackluster, and other salads of meat or
seafood, though lively and puckery with lime, don’t have the brilliance
I’ve come to expect. Among entrees, the spiciest dishes are the
standouts. “Wild boar basil” pork studded with mushrooms, green
pepper-corns and chilies, reverberates. Drunken noodles is hot and
herbal, with plenty of potent basil playing against the fat, slightly
smoky rice noodles and moist, delicately browned chicken, beef or pork.
Crispy fish has definite
crunch under a thick blanket of red and green chilies with basil. While
its flesh is cooked too firm, freshness and crispness eclipse the
flaws—and Thai Noy invites you to specify the size of your flounder. The
curry sauces are very good, though the meats floating in them are
sometimes thin and bland. As the satays hint, this is a kitchen that
makes much of peanut sauces. “Lover’s scampi” teams large, juicy shrimp
with a sauce that’s crunchy and thick with nuts, tingling with spices.
The same sauces dresses up Mekong chicken.
Also on this long menu are standard
stir-fries, the likes of beef with oyster sauce or chicken with ginger:
tame and watery. Even meats with a fetching-sounding himaparn
sauce—honey and lemon with cashews, chilies and scallions—taste wan.
Thai Noy also demonstrates that you can’t judge a restaurant by its pad
thai; here the noodle dish is oversimplified, just sweet and slightly
fishy-tasting rice noodles with chewy shrimp, bits of tofu and a
sprinkling of peanuts. It’s the least enticing dish I’ve tried.
After the fanciful
appetizers, desserts seem startlingly straightforward. Ginger or coconut
ice cream is just a bowl of whiteness, yet the flavor is vibrant,
especially in an ice cream as light and milky as a sherbet. Sticky rice
with mango is wonderfully rustic, a cushion of warm, slightly sweet and
properly chewy rice drizzled with coconut milk and accompanied by the
sliced, ripe, sweetly acidic fruit.
Thai Noy makes a glamorous first
impression, with those imposing wine glasses and festive napkin flowers.
Chances are it will still seem special when you leave.