Joe DiStefano from Gothamist said something to me the other night that I always like to hear.
He said he liked my work.
"We should go out for Thai food," I said, because Joe lives in Queens, where we New Yorkers keep most of our Thai food, and because ordering Thai food is one of the things I do best. If people like what I write, I want to order Thai food for them.
Joe liked the idea of this, because there was a place in Elmhurst, Ploy Thai, that he wanted to check out.
Actually, he'd checked it out, and was dismayed that they ignored him when he said he wanted the food to be spicy. Pehaps he would have better luck if someone ordered it in Thai.
Ploy Thai? Ploy? What the heck, I wondered, does ploy mean? So when we walked in, after saying hello in Thai, that there were two of us, and that, yes, we would eat it there, not to go, I said "Koh thot, khrap. Kham wah 'ploy' pleah wah arrai, khrap?" ("Excuse me, what does the word 'ploy' mean?")
It turns out it means gem, or jewel. Good to know.
Joe was a little bit disappointed that the specials on the board were no longer just written in Thai, but had English translations, too. But he didn't know that one of the specials, yam plah dook foo, or fluffy catfish salad, was an unusual (for New York) and fun dish to have, and that som tam pu, or green papaya salad with mud crab, was an unusual modification (for New York) of the som tam with peanuts (and ideally dried shrimp), that was more common both in the US and in Bangkok. It was a variation from Thailand's northeast.
"Isaan," Joe said, so I'd know that he was no neophyte when it comes to Thai food. Isaan is what Thais call the Northeast.
So we ordered those items, along with a couple of standards that are good markers of quality in a Thai restaurant: stir-fried pork with basil and green curry, which we got with chicken.
I insisted in Thai that they make both of the salads spicy. "Ta mai pet, mai arroy," I said -- If it's not spicy, it doesn't taste good.
They brought out the papaya salad first and waited for us to taste it to make sure it wasn't too spicy. It was, actually, but it's what we were looking for. I think flames might have shot out of poor Joe's mouth. I'm not sure. I have a pretty high threshold for capsaicin-induced pain, but I tasted the danger and avoided anything that looked like a chile. It reminded me of eating som tam in Thailand.
"Perfect," I said, and she brought out the rest of the meal.
Here's what struck me: They didn't pretend that Thai salads are like white people salads, to be eaten as a separate course. They brought every dish out the instant it was ready, as one does in Thailand. It had been so long since that had happened in New York that I had forgotten it was possible.
Joe's reviewing the place for Gothamist, so I'll leave him to it. It should be posted in a few days.