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Pete Wells Finds Fish Cheeks To Be Unadventurous But ‘Vivid’ Thai Fare

Solid versions of familiar Thai dishes like tom yum soup won over the Times critic

A colorful restaurant interior with a light wooden ceiling, wooden tables, and red, yellow, and blue chairs. Fish Cheeks

Thrill-chasing New Yorkers have been expanding their palette for Thai food for years now, but Pete Wells finds that 55 Bond Street restaurant Fish Cheeks doesn’t quite quench the sense of adventure that places like Night & Market in LA or Pok Pok in Brooklyn do. Still, the small menu from chefs Chat Suansilphong and his brother Ohm, who used to work at the lauded Nahm in Bangkok, offers dishes that are "fresh, vivid, and intense," Wells says. Dishes like tom yum soup — common to most Thai restaurants in the U.S. — are prepared at a higher level at Fish Cheeks than at other places, Wells writes:

The version [of tum yum] here hums with fresh galangal, lime leaves and lemongrass. Shrimp and knobby mushrooms simmer in a broth that gets extra body from milk, a twist I’ve never seen before but one I approve of. It could be spicier, but the use of bird’s-eye chiles is far from shy.

Woon sen, the transparent noodles that are almost as widespread as tom yum, are baked with shrimp and pork belly in a sweet, Chinese-influenced casserole. From southern Thailand comes a lush and complex crab curry, rich from coconut milk and hypnotically aromatic from freshly ground spices.

Nam tok, a northeastern salad of grilled meat with green herbs and shallots, is another familiar sight, but the pork is more flavorful than usual, with a deeply satisfying char on the edges. And I wish every Thai restaurant could make fried chicken with shallot rings and a classic sweet red-chile dipping sauce that is as engaging as the appetizer version at Fish Cheeks.

Wells also enjoyed a local blue fish special, served in a pot with spicy green nam jim sauce and bird’s-eye chiles, and a mild, fried branzino served with garlic and a side of fish sauce. Fish Cheeks was not always consistent — a mixed seafood dish went from "bracingly intense" to "unremarkable" in a course of a week — but it ultimately won Wells over. "It’s not a groundbreaking restaurant," he writes, "it simply cooks the way I wish more Thai kitchens did." He gives it one star.

Fish Cheeks

55 Bond Street, Manhattan, NY 10012 (212) 677-2223 Visit Website