Friday, April 3, 2009

A Taste of Thai at Rhong Tiam

Rhong Tiam
541 LaGuardia Place
New York, NY
(212) 477-0600 | Map

It was my turn to choose a restaurant for the March meeting of the Lehigh Dinner Club, and based on a review from The New York Times, I suggested that we dine at Rhong Tiam. It occurred to me as I was trying to pick a restaurant from my ever-growing list of restaurants to try that we had somehow managed to ignore the cuisine of Thailand while conducting our culinary tour of New York. After a few minutes on OpenTable, we were all set to have a taste of Thai at Rhong Tiam.

Chang Beer at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chang Beer at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY

To quench our thirst while deciding which appetizers to order, Brian and I each enjoyed a bottle of Chang Beer ($6/each) - a light lager with a good crisp taste that was slightly sweet. I found out later that the Chang Beer paired perfectly with the spiciness of my entree.

Steamed Chicken and Shrimp Dumplings at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go
Steamed Chicken and Shrimp Dumplings at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY

As usual, we ordered three appetizers to share. Kym chose the Steamed Chicken and Shrimp Dumplings ($5). The filling was tasty and sweet and the dumplings were steamed to perfection; however, they didn't wow us or taste unlike the steamed dumplings you'd find in any other restaurant in New York serving Asian or pan-Asian cuisine.

Rhong-Tiam Roll at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go
Rhong-Tiam Roll at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY

Brian chose the Rhong-Tiam Rolls ($5), ground chicken and bean thread wrapped in a crispy egg skin and then deep-fried. These were a big hit and the dipping sauce was both sweet and spicy. My only suggestion would be that the person preparing the rolls be a bit more careful when assembling them. I turned one over before taking a bite and discovered that the wrapper had separated and the filling was oozing out. It just goes to show you that what looks good on one side may not look so good on the other! Thankfully, it didn't matter so much because they tasted delicious.

Roti Canai at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go
Roti Canai at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY

My appetizer order was a little more complicated to bring into fruition. I originally ordered the Fried Tofu ($4) but was told as we were being served the other appetizers that the kitchen had run out of the Fried Tofu. Hmm... back to the menu. Thinking back to the Times review, I remembered that they had good things to say about the Rhong-Tiam Chorizo ($5). Alas, the kitchen was out of that, too. Frustrated, I finally just asked our server to suggest something they weren't out of, and she told me to try the Roti Canai ($4), a crispy and doughy Indian-style pancake served with curry sauce. Thankfuly, the recommendation was a good one. The curry sauce was a perfect mix of sweet and spicy and balanced the flavor and texture of the pancake quite nicely.

Sesame Chicken at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go
Sesame Chicken at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY

For her entree, Kym chose the Sesame Chicken, and we were all pleasantly surprised with the dish. Now, this is, of course, something you could order up from your favorite greasy Chinese take-out restaurant any old time. However, Rhong Tiam managed to get it right -- the chicken was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. No signs of sogginess in the batter whatsoever. And, the sauce was excellent and wasn't smothering the chicken. Perhaps that's the real secret to keeping the chicken crispy -- not pouring on gobs and gobs of sauce.

Larb Gai at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go
Larb Gai at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY

Brian chose a different chicken dish for his entree, the Larb Gai ($9). Whew, this one had some heat! According to the menu, this is a traditional Thai minced chicken dish served with a fresh spicy lime sauce. I think one of the reasons why Brian ordered it was because the words "kaffir lime" made his mouth water. I enjoyed looking at it from across the table because it was served piled high on top of a lettuce leaf. If you get a chance to try this dish, beware... It has the kind of heat that sneaks up on you and develops at the back of your throat as you continue eating it. Great stuff!

Sauteed Eggplant with Vegetables at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go
Sauteed Eggplant with Vegetables at Rhong Tiam in New York, NY

I, too, ordered something spicy for dinner, but because I wanted to make sure I could eat the leftovers the next day for lunch, I strayed away from the meat dishes and ordered the Spicy Eggplant with Vegetables ($11). (The next day was Friday, and no meat on Fridays during Lent.) Spicy is right! Unlike Brian's entree, the spice in my dinner hit you immediately and lingered until you felt like your lips were burning and fire was coming out of your nostrils. I probably would have gone home with heartburn had I allowed myself to eat the whole thing at the restaurant.

As much as I would love to say that the Times review didn't do the food or the service at Rhong Tiam justice, I can't. Sure, the food was very good, but I was expecting more. And the service was on the slow side. It almost felt like we were bothering them, interrupting them, for more water or for our check. Because it took so long to get our server's attention, we didn't attempt to order coffee or dessert. While I wouldn't rule Rhong Tiam out if you're looking for good Thai food that's reasonably priced, nothing about my meal has prompted me to start enthusiastically telling people about the restaurant or to suggest that they make a reservation for dinner as soon as possible. I suppose you'll just have to judge the restaurant for yourself.

Update: As reported by Chowhound and Eater NY, the Rhong Tiam location on LaGuardia Place has closed. Try their restaurant on the East Side. January 16, 2010

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