Monday, March 9, 2009

HOLY FUCKING SPICE!!!- Rhong Tiam in the West Village



I thought I could fuck with spicy food. Maybe I misunderstood hot for spice. I mess with Frank's, Texas Pete, Tabasco, Louisiana and so on. Ain't nothing. A little zing and then the calm. But spice. Spice doesn't let up. That shit puts your tongue in a full nelson and refuses to let go. Even when you're throwing your hand in the air or hitting the mat to surrender. Remission doesn't exist here. And then the hiccups start. The fucking hiccups. The terrible kind. The workers must have been on some "sirry rittle white boys thought they were brave." (No insult intended) I will never walk with my chest out in a southeast Asian spot again. I hold thee in reverence. Surprisingly the burn was minimal the next day. I was expecting way worse.

Rhong-Tiam is on La Guardia Place between West 3rd and Bleeker St. Formerly the Malaysian restaurant Penang, it might be located in the only "strip mall" on the island of Manhattan. Like a structure you'd see on Rt. 4 in NJ or Co-Op City, but even smaller. It's just weird. It's in the middle of NYU personnel housing so I understand the purpose of the strip when it was built. Today a liquor store, 3 restaurants and possibly one other business inhabit it. Rhong-Tiam is sandwiched between a Mexican and Italian restaurant. Once you get past the topical oddness you enter a warm, clean, mostly white space. It's pretty romantic in fact. I was with my brother so it didn't help me out at the end of the night, but it's a place to keep in mind, especially if you want Thai, when most Thai spots don't get it sexy. And it's fairly large, seating close to 80-90 heads at a time. By the time we left every table was filled. I can dig it.



I was in the mood for ramen type soup and luckily RT had several noodle soups. Rather then get a smaller soup and appetizer we sparked one large soup as the starter. And the torture began. I believe we ordered the Seafood Tom Yum Soup ($12). Wide rice noodles (chow fun type noodle), calamari rings, shrimp, sliced scallop, and shumai-type dumplings swimming in the devil's liquid, a red (blood) broth. Sliced pieces of a green vegetable floated on the surface- similar to green beans with crunch. I was too busy wiping the tears from my eyes and the shit from my nose to really know what was going on. One spoonful of the broth was all it took. We're talking M.O.P. "4 Alarm Blaze" status. There was nothing enjoyable about the dish- at the time. I get a kick out of the experience now, but ain't no smiling on Rhong Tiam Island. There wasn't much seafood in the soup- maybe 2 shrimp, 2 dumpling, one or 2 pieces of scallop and a little more calamari. Mind you, our waiter didn't mention anything about the heat factor on this dish. Not that it would have deterred us, but at least let me know I'm about to walk into a bad area. I would at least get my ditty bop bopping. So let me tell you, THIS IS FUCKING SPICY.



Following the soup I wasn't sure if I could go on. My throat felt like it was getting swollen and with my array of food allergies I wouldn't have been surprised if the soup had something that caused a reaction. Several swigs of Singha (the only beer they had that night) and some water I was good to go. Problem was one of the dishes we ordered was "Pork on Fire" ($13). They make it pretty clear that you're about to walk over flaming embers. Our waiter was pretty explicit about the terrordome we were about to enter. And based on the reticence earlier regarding the soup, I was pretty shook. The NY Times reviewed the spot back in June, you can see it HERE, and paid very special attention to this dish. Julia Moskin explained it this way, "It’s not so much a dish as a session: an hour spent suspended exquisitely between pleasure and pain, craving and fear." All I kept thinking was "fuck me". But check this out. The heat was minimal. Dead ass. Maybe it's like before you pierce something you get mad nervous thinking of the needle puncturing flesh, but once it happens- not even a flinch. Or maybe my tongue's capabilities were put into paralysis and I just couldn't register the heat. Now when I go to try it the second time I'll be bold and wind up crying like a little girl. Like when I got my nose pierced the 2nd time- that shit HURT.

I enjoyed the dish tremendously. Small tender chunks of pork sauteed with lemongrass, garlic, birds eye chili, kaffir lime leaves and basil. Between the sweetness of the basil, bite from the chili, citrusy-ness (?) of the lemongrass and robustness of the garlic, the dish displayed the complex blend of flavors that I expect from Thai and other southeastern Asian cuisines. Executed perfectly. The swine was moist - only wish there was more.



To keep it healthy we ordered the Three Season Tamarind Red Snapper ($22). A whole deep fried snapper served in a sweet and spicy tamarind sauce with red pepper, garlic, and pineapple. Another victory. The filets were sliced on each side of the fish so the eater doesn't have to cut any of the meat from the bone unless you want to get into the head and get some jowel, cheek and so on. It would be a shame to let it go to waste. The image above shows the head (see the teeth) and the rest of the fish curves around the plate. I even tried to eat the eye ball, but it was way too hard- reminded me of a juniper berry. I was on my Tony Bourdain for a minute. The fish was flaky, moist and flavorful. The batter was light and sopped up the tamarind like a squeegee. A definite recommendation.

Unfortunately I was only able to sample 3 dishes. But I'll be back. Get a typical noodle dish next time and I really want to try the Rhong Tiam chorizo appetizer. You can see the menu HERE. The menu was updated this past week so certain dishes are missing. Come nicer weather there is outdoor seating on a small porch to ogle at all the NYUers. The portions aren't that large and the prices are reasonable. I used to mess with Pam Real when I wanted Thai in the city, but after a couple more visits I can see Rhong Tiam taking the title.

Rhong Tiam
541 La Guardia Place (between W. 3rd St. and Bleeker St.)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 477-0600
Subway: B, D, F, V to Broadway–Lafayette St; 6 to Bleecker St - several block walk from each
Monday - Thursday- 12pm till 10:30pm
Friday & Saturday- 12pm till 11pm
Sunday- 5pm till 10:30pm
www.rhong-tiam.com

5 comments:

buckemdown said...

Count me in for your next visit. That menu is calling me. We'll bring Seamus along with the fire hose in case things get out of hand.

Allen said...

Sawatdee krap . . .

Where was the warning? Didn't he feel the need to spicify the heat? Oh well, everything else was on point.

Even though there's tons of Thai spots in the city, for some reason I never feel like I know the good ones or where they are.

Are hiccups a common occurrence by the way or is it just us?!

HowFresh said...

The hiccup thing seems pretty common- the body is just reacting to pain- thinking the esophagus is in danger I suppose.

Years ago it was pretty easy with Thai since there were only a few. Today they're all over the place. I don't think I've ever had a shitty Thai meal, but definitely enjoyed some more than others. This place definitely ranks among the best.

HowFresh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viagra versus Cialis said...

eeewww... I really hate spicy food... I mean that's not a way to eat, because the hot sauce takes away the good taste of the food, or even add ketchup or mayonnaise...