I tend to go to restaurants soon after their grand openings expecting to see good indications of the future of a place. I have long believed that if a restaurant is open and accepting money you should be able to expect that you will get your money's worth. I just don't accept "we just opened" as a reason for poor execution. There are many ways a place can control chaos as they get up to speed, and the choices they make are in my opinion the best indicator of how a place will serve you going forward.

Time Out New York had announced Planet Thailand 212 was open last week; when I called last Thursday to confirm this, I left a message asking to be made aware of whether or not they were indeed open. Later that day, they called back to assure me they were and that I was welcome to come in and enjoy a meal. And pay for it.


Upon my arrival things seemed a little fishy: the bar had no liquor and the room was largely empty. During a discussion with the server it bore out that the actual grand opening was two weeks hence, but the place had been open a week.

The room is rather large and spacious, centered on a large island bar. The walls are covered in murals, with a glassed-in kitchen in the back. There are enormous booths made of very soft leather flanking the wall to the west and café tables with jewel orange hard plastic chairs around them filling the rest of the space. The only other actually significant design aspect is a set of digital cameras set around the place shooting through aluminum cutouts with images of foreign lands on them, which are wired to a set of small panel monitors behind the hostess stand creating images of the patrons in these exotic settings.

The menu is confusing: it is very long (about 130 items) and about 35% sushi. I am not sure why you would order sushi in a place called Planet Thailand, but apparently they expect enough people to that it takes up a lot of the menu. Otherwise the menu is one of those jack-of-all-trades/masters-of-none shotgun approach to providing many choices that usually ends up spreading the attention so thin little comes out well.

From "Starters + Snacks" were Fried Spring Rolls with Japanese plum sauce. Fried quite crisp, they were filled with clear noodles and a bit of ginger and were a good medium for eating the sauce. Pork Ribs maringated in garlic and cilantro, also sampled in the first course, had been either roasted or immersion fried to the point where little moisture was left. Neither the garlic nor the cilantro were detectable, they worked best as an interpretation of chips with which to eat the bright orange garlic chili sauce that dressed the plate. Mee Grop Crispy Tamarind Noodles with shrimp was the last of the selections from starters. Light and crispy noodles 2006_06_augie3.jpglightly stuck together with tamarind and some kind of cane sugar or honey, the flavor was quite nice. The way the air flow through the crunchy noodles allowed the tamarind aroma to permeate your palate was pleasant. The shrimp were inconsequential.

Along with starters from "Fried Rices + Flavored Rices" I tried Grilled Stikcy Rice wrapped in banana leaves. This was a great dish with a subtle balance of oolong tea, honey, and coconut flavors. The aromas of Thai iced tea subdued, warm and chewy without cloying.

2006_06_augie4.jpgFrom "Meat + Poultry" I had Bamboo Chicken - Grilled Free Range Chicken, marinated in garlic, cilantro & Thai spices. The color on this was beautiful, the flavors however were lost in dryness. For this mélange of flavors to exist in the chicken as opposed to simply being baked in the skin the cooking would have had to be stopped about fifteen degrees before it was.

The "Noodles" section seemed to offer a fair sounding board in the form of Pad Thai Shrimp Rice Noodles with egg, bean curd, bean sprouts and scallion. In my head I blame Anthony Bourdain for making me expect that well made dishes involving high flavors of lime, and peanut, egg and tamarind that dance off low flavors like aged tofu and rice noodles to be transcendent. 2006_06_augie1.jpgThe truth is what I have come to expect from his writing in "A Cooks Tour" may not exist and if it does perhaps it will never exist in the US. But this dish was not ethereal rather it was handled so slap-dash the resulting aroma was of wet dog and the flavors were a mish-mosh of boringness. The other item tasted from this section, the Spicy Noodles & Seafood sauteed with chili, basil & mixed vegetables was not drastically different, except that it missed seafood other than squid and shrimp, lacked any basil aroma, and was not spicy.

Having eaten and been pretty let down by the best foot they put forward, I quizzed the people who had previously suggested the parent of this restaurant in Brooklyn, Planet Thailand, only to have them recant with statements like, "it is a good place for a beer," and "the smaller, original place was far better than its current incarnation."

Planet Thailand 212 seems to care more about its scene than its food. The focus of the room is the bar, there is a manned DJ booth, and the space feels as if it will be at its best full of buzzing people. A menu with 130-something selections speaks to wanting to have what everyone else has without care for the excellence that can only be born of focus. It does stay true to the tendency of mediocre Asian cuisine around town by allowing you to eat diverse samplings and end up fed for about twenty bucks, but I think it is best filed as an alternative to standard bars for people who don't like wings and cheeseburgers. I would not go expecting a restaurant serving good Thai food.

Planethailand 212 is at 30 W 24th St between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Phone: 212-727-7026