2008_02_FoodPloyThaiExt.jpgThe atmosphere at Ploy Thai, a newish restaurant on the corner of Elmhurst Avenue and Broadway in Queens, seems promising in its authenticity; upon entering for the first time we were pleased to find a few tables of Thai families, a specials board written completely in Thai and karaoke of girl band Girly Berry playing on a flat screen TV.

We ordered two of the specials: yum pla duk fu, or fluffy catfish salad and kai lu koi, which the waiter described as deep-fried egg. To round things out, Gothamist also got an order of papaya salad. Kai lu koi turned out to be hard-boiled eggs that had been cut in half, fried in light batter and slicked with a sweet tamarind sauce. The fluffy catfish salad consisted of greasy little bits of catfish sitting atop some shredded papaya and onions. The papaya salad was marred by one glaring omission: it had little or no spice to it. When prompted about the lack of heat, the waiter said, “We don’t make it spicy unless you ask.”

Despite an attitude that seemed more appropriate to a Thai joint in Omaha, we were determined to go back to Ploy Thai and get the real deal. Rather than risk disappointment by flying solo, we brought in a ringer: Thai speaking journalist Bret Thorn. The NRN reporter behind the blog Food Writer’s Diary spent 5-plus years living and working in Thailand. Thorn confirmed our guess, based on the huge illuminated poster of gem stones hanging in the dining room, that "ploy" means jewel.


For salads we ordered yum pla duk fu and som tum pu, or green papaya salad with mud crab. Our newfound Thai expert rattled off something to the waitress about spice levels. Specifically he said, "Ta mai pet, mai arroy," or “If it's not spicy, it doesn't taste good.” As predicted, they were both good and showered with plenty of fresh chilies that soon had our eyes tearing with joy. The crunchy papaya salad was shot through with bits of crab still in the shell. This time around the yum pla duk fu consisted of a dinner-plate sized discus of fried catfish fluff topped with cashews, onions, chilies and shredded papaya, among other things. The crunchy catfish fluff is made by steaming the fish, picking the meat off and then deep-frying it.

The green chicken curry was not quite as incendiary as the salads and had a pleasant citrus flavor. Since it's considered one of the dishes that's a good benchmark for Thai food, Bret also ordered up a plate of pad kra prao or ground pork with basil sauce. It wasn't as incendiary as the salads, but it had a steadily escalating heat and a pleasant sweetness.

All in all the second visit to Ploy Thai was much better than the first. For a guy who says that most Thai spots in the city wouldn't cut it in Bangkok, Bret was pretty impressed. As they say in Thailand, the food was grom glom, or spot on in terms of the blending of spices and flavors. Just don't be shy about asking them to turn up the heat.

Ploy Thai, 81-40 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-205-2128