Spots for okonomiyaki; and where's the Thai food?

Posted: July 07, 2011

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:

 

  Reader: Do you know where I can get a good okonomiyaki here in the city?

C.L.: Four places come to mind for this hearty homestyle Japanese seafood crepe that gets streaked with multi-colored sauces (sweet dark Bulldog; spicy mayo) and shaved bonito flakes: the lunch counter at Midori Mart, the charming Japanese grocery in Narberth; Oh Yoko!, the personable sushi bar on Route 70 in Cherry Hill (where they make their own soy); Doma, the sleek Korean-Japanese fusion spot on Callowhill; and, I wouldn't be surprised if Maru Global on 10th St. had them, since Japanese street food is their calling. . . .

Reader: When you reviewed Mica did you get a chance to hit Campbell's or Tavern on the Hill? Decent gastropubs. I'm hoping Chestnut Hill/Mount Airy can become a foodie's haven.

C.L.: I grabbed a beer at Campbell's - decent enough but not great craft brew selection- but have not eaten there yet. I've heard great things from the locals. I understand the chef-owner is a roadie cook for some pretty big rock acts. Sounds interesting . . . what are your favorite dishes there? Of course, I already know McNally's, where the Schmitter is so much better than the mass-produced one at the Bank.

Reader: Campbell's has great mussels, pulled pork sandwiches, soups. [Tavern on the Hill] has a great turkey, brie, and cranberry sandwich. Also, like the pulled beef. Live jazz on weekends.

C.L.: Thanks for the details.

Reader: What do you recommend in the city in terms of Thai food? I live in Old City and wouldn't mind a place that I could walk to.

C.L.: Unfortunately, Thai food is poorly served. A few years ago, I would have said Siam Lotus on Callowhill Street. That closed, though, as did MangoMoon, another fave in Manayunk. So now we're left with Chabaa Thai in M'yunk (same owner as MangoMoon) and Erawan northwest of Rittenhouse Square as the two Thai restaurants I can recommend. There is also Nan in West Philly, always a refined delight. But it's French-Thai, slightly different, though chef Kamol Phutlek still probably does the classics (pad Thai, satay, etc) better than most of the other straight-ahead Thais in town. I had some phenomenal Thai food when I was out in Portland, Ore., in May - a place called Pok Pok that was a Thai truck that evolved into a series of permanent-tent dining rooms. We have nothing that really compares with the vivid pop of those flavors (charcoal-roasted game hen with sticky rice; fiercely spicy noodles with house sausage . . . OMG). Reader: Craig, I've eaten at least eight Thai restaurants in the Philly area, and I've noticed that none seem to have eccentric dishes common at some other Thai restaurants in New York and D.C. I don't go anyplace that has Chiang Mai curry soup (aka, Burmese noodle soup) or Fried Egg Salad ("Yam Kai Dao.") Everything seems cut back for American palates or fused with haute cuisine.

C.L.: I pretty much agree with you. Most of the Thais that moved to Philly did so in the '70s and '80s, and were a big part of shaping our first Restaurant Renaissance, adding international flair. Kamol was one of those. Our current Asian immigration, though, is not from Thailand - but rather Korea, Vietnam, even Indonesia. But Pok Pok in Portland was not even started by a native Thai. He's an American chef who took an interest in re-creating some authentic flavors. we just need someone passionate enough to mine those flavors.

Reader: I think the Thai food situation in this city is sad. I was in Brooklyn this weekend and had two Thai meals in one neighborhood in Brooklyn (Caroll Gardens/Cobble Hill) vastly superior to any Thai I've had in this city. I like Banana Leaf but it's more Thai/Malaysian . . . .

C.L.: Agreed. Plus, I stick with the fun Malaysian flavors like roti and nasi goreng when I'm at Banana Leaf and others like Aqua, Penang . . . .

Reader: Are you aware of a small Indonesian spot in South Philly that looks like someone's living room/dining room in their house?

C.L.: Most likely they were talking about Hardena, on Moore at Hicks (between 15th and 16th) - excellent, authentic place. Great satay, plus other Indonesian flavors - definitely worth going for a lunch adventure.

Reader: Get thee to Circles in South Philly, and grab some Thai in the new dining room, across the street from their takeout spot - they trot the dishes across the street from the kitchen.

Reader: Thai restaurant opening up at 15th and south! Really looking forward to it!

Reader: Sawatdee opens on Friday if you're looking for a new Thai place (15th and South). The chef, Tony Inchote, previously cooked at Susanna Foo and Dmitri's.

C.L.: All good comments - I'm looking forward to Sawatdee. I was not a fan of Pico de Gallo . . . at all. Chef Inchote has a good pedigree, so at least there's hope! I'll have to check out Circles, too.

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