The Vegetarian Option: Ngam
Ngam, I feel, has not yet gotten the attention it deserves. This East Village newcomer has received relatively little notice, yet its modern twist on Thai actually manages to be as delicious as it is inventive. The chef trained under one of Thailand's top chefs before working at the likes of Jean George's Spice Market and Perry Street, and now at Ngam, she's letting her creativity shine.
We couldn't resist ordering the strawberry chili juice ($4, pictured above). It tasted brilliantly of fresh, ripe strawberries with just a touch of chili hitting the back of your throat. Definitely make sure to order this while it's still on the seasonally changing menu.
The Chiang-Mai fries ($7) are much closer to a tempura than any riff on the french fry. The curry batter creates a crispy crunch exterior while the Kabocha yam inside remains soft—all served with a tangy red curry mayo for your dipping pleasure. As long as you didn't have your heart set on actual fries (and in this case, you shouldn't), this is a very solid starter.
Even better were the spring rolls ($7)—one look at the towering dish and you know these are no ordinary specimens. Filled with vermicelli noodles and shitake mushrooms, these are served with a sweet and exotic passionfruit chili sauce, and have just the right touch of salt to give them an addictive quality.
The main course, however, really stole the show. The papaya pad thai ($16) actually swaps out rice noodles for long strands of shredded green papaya. The papaya plays its role convincingly. Far less heavy than its noodley twin, only a slightest hint of added crunchiness might have given away its identity. As a pad thai the flavors are spot on: a perfect balance of sweet, sour, and savory. No matter what your relationship with carbs, it is well worth taking a chance on this unique dish.
Ngam may still be settling into the neighborhood, but the food itself has plenty of promise. By our table, a Julia Child quote was plastered to the wall: "Cooking is like love, it should be enter into with reckless abandon, or not at all." By the end of the meal, I was relieved to find that Ngam may actually do Julia's words justice. My advice to you: go while it's still quiet, because the others may catch on soon.