Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Hell's Kitchen for some comforting Thai food.
Want to try a whole bunch of different delicious dishes without spending a ridiculous amount of money and walk away totally full and happy? Grab a buddy or three and head on over to the Hell's Kitchen stretch of Ninth Avenue for a party at the new "country Thai" restaurant Taladwat. Yes, there are already about a hundred Thai restaurants in this part of town, and most of them are pretty cheap, but Taladwat is worth a special trip for its high quality, highly-spiced food and the menu-wide "Pick-n-Mix" pricing: any two items, with a mound of rice, is only $16.
The terrific cooking comes courtesy of David and Vanida Bank, who earned a solid following at their Upper West Side restaurant, Land, and the nearby Pure Thai Cookhouse. The Banks' partner here is Brian Ghaw, who also has a hand in Feast, the East Village spot known for its festive, family-style vibe. Together they've created something special at Taladwat, and it has not gone unnoticed by the locals. Although it's only been open for a month, and without a lot of hype to draw in food tourists, there were significant table waits last Friday evening.
When you do sit down it'll be on a bench at one of nine communal tables. The lighting is bright, flags form festoons across the entire ceiling, random signifiers of "rustic living" hang from the painted brick and slatted wooden walls, and a few on-trend neon sculptures add to the visual fun. Giant pots bubbling with stews and sauces await your order in an open serving station in the back. Service is fast and friendly, and you should feel free to ask for suggestions when ordering what could possibly be quite a lengthy list of dishes.
With Pick-n-Mix pricing I was able to eat eight different dishes over two consecutive nights and there wasn't a single clunker among them. You can also order anything a la carte in its "regular size," with prices in the mid to high teens for each, but even the half sizes provide plenty of bites for everyone at the table. Either way, from your first taste of just about anything you'll know that chef Bank does not pull any punches here. Everything is exploding with flavor, and if an item has three (or even two) little flames next to it on the menu, know that it's going to bring the heat.
I didn't recognize many of these dishes going in—there's no Pad Thai or Papaya Salad here; Bank is interested in recreating country dishes from family recipes and childhood memories. The Pad Ped Beef, which is basically ground cow with bamboo shoots, hot chili, and loads of fresh curry paste, is terrific when rolled up in one of the beautifully crisp lettuce leaves that arrive with meal. Same for the chunky Pad Prik Khing Pork. Feel free to also add some acid (and cool things down) by loading up on the complimentary pickles.
One dish that was familiar was the Shrimp and Calamari Tom Yum Soup, and the Taladwat version is superb, hot as hell and carrying a great depth of flavor, thanks to lime, lemongrass, and galangal. Vegetable Green Curry enlists coconut milk to smooth things out, with excellent results, as does the Tepo Curry Pork Belly. Turmeric Curry Chicken is rich and earthy, Crabmeat Tom Turmeric nice and bright, and the Sour Curry Fish has an incredible tang that I found addictive.
The next time you're in this area, Taladwat is where you should eat. The food is exciting, the atmosphere lively and fun, the prices refreshingly reasonable.
Taladwat is located at 714 Ninth Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets and is open on weekdays at 11 a.m. weekends at noon, and until 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 p.m. on Sunday (646-823-9815; taladwat.com)