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Tanya Maithai

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Going Hollywood at New York’s Thai Noodle Hot Spots

Thai street food like they do it in LA at Pye Boat Noodle and Look By Plant Love House

Fifteen years ago an LA friend introduced me to the pleasures of scarfing noodles on Hollywood Boulevard. In the area known as Thai Town, the restaurants were quite different from the ones here in NY. Sure, New York has Isan places serving the fiery salads of northeastern Thailand, and khao soi cafes from the Chinese-leaning city of Chiang Mai. We have restaurants slinging the curries and basil stir fries of central Thailand, some focusing on Bangkok. And we have places like Pok Pok and Kiin Thai that take a scholarly pan-regional approach. But those Hollywood stars concentrated almost exclusively on noodle soups. My mind was blown.

Pye Boat Noodle

It’s been possible to find a few dishes on most Thai menus in town typical of those served at places like Hollywood’s Sanamluang, but nothing like its collection of 20 or so noodle entrees. Until 2014, that is, when Pye Boat Noodle appeared in Astoria. The lively place is tricked out like a tropical Quonset hut — all waffled metal, louvered typhoon shutters, and worm-eaten wood. The uniformed waiters are sassy, the service fast, and the food inexpensive.

Like the heroine of Brian De Palma’s Carrie, you may encounter pig blood. It’s an important component of boat noodles with pork ($9.95), also known as nam tok. The "boat" part refers to sampans that ply the waters of Bangkok’s canals, where the dish was invented in 1942. Like floating McDonaldses, they ladle out fast food, in this case rice noodles in a slightly sweet broth darkly flavored with soy sauce and blood, jumbled with sliced pork, pork meatballs, and crunchy pork rind. Blood makes the soup richer. In Bangkok you’d also get some offal, but who’s complaining?

Pye Boat Noodles, Tanya, Pye Boat Noodles, Tanya,
Pye Boat Noodles, Tanya, Pye Boat Noodles, Tanya,
Tanya Maithai

Above: Drunken noodles with beef and papaya salad. Below: Boat noodles with pork. [Photos and lede image: Tanya Maithai]

The menu fills out with other street-style noodles, both brothed and sauced. For lovers of the color pink, there’s yen ta fo noodle ($10.95), seething with shrimp, shrimp balls, fish balls, squid rings, and frilly white fungus in a too-sweet chicken broth thickened with bean paste — which is where the color comes from. If you prefer dry noodles without soup, then bamee phoo moo dang hang may be your thing. Egg noodles something like curly packaged ramen are tossed with thick slices of pork belly and shreds of crabmeat. Handfuls of chopped scallions and cilantro provide verdency in this dish often peddled in Thailand from carts late at night.

Look By Plant Love House

A similar noodle joint with the hippie-sounding name of Plant Love House opened on Elmhurst’s Whitney Avenue near the end of 2014. Competing with a half-dozen other Thai cafes in the immediate vicinity with more predictable menus, it never quite developed the following it needed to succeed. So it boldly picked up and moved to Brooklyn, to the Prospect Heights restaurant frontier of Washington Avenue. Cryptically changing its name to Look By Plant Love House, it mounted a similar noodle-focused menu in a deep space with two cramped dining rooms (sit in the front barroom instead), a premises that had failed as several previous establishments, including a clam bar and an Italian restaurant with Israeli flourishes.

Nevertheless, the food now is spectacular, perhaps a notch above Pye Boat’s. Boat noodles (guay taio num tok, $11) remain the flagship, here with more piquancy and with blood that seems better integrated into the broth. (There are no tiny clots around the rim, as at Pye Boat). If you’ve previously experienced tom yum as a small bowl of forgettable soup served as an appetizer, you’ll sit up and take notice of Plant Love’s rendition. In a broth propelled by lime juice and fish sauce swim all sorts of proteinaceous ingredients, plus a bonus fried wonton and lots of crushed peanuts. You won’t know where to start. Ask for it "Thai spicy" and it will leave you gasping between spoonfuls.

An ornate, blue-and-white bowl of noodles with chopsticks placed over it. Paul Crisipin Quitoriano/Eater NY
Look by Plant Love House Paul Crispin Quitoriano

Above: Som tum tard and pork blood noodle soup. Below: Khao soy and exterior. [Photos: Paul Crispin Quitoriano]

The menu strays from the true noodle path more often than Pye Boat does, and there are a couple of things so good they shouldn’t be missed. One is khao pad tom yum goong ($12), a umami-exploding fried rice cooked with shrimp paste. It comes cheerfully bannered with cucumbers and cilantro. Spring for the fried egg option (an extra $2), and add runny yolk to the dish’s mellow assets.

The other is a sort of pu-pu platter that incorporates all sorts of Isan drinking snacks: shredded papaya salad, a wad of white vermicelli, sour Isan pork sausage (absolutely killer in this homemade version), sticky rice, boiled egg, and vegetable crudités. Called som-tum tard ($25), it provides sufficient appetizing for a table of four, or an entire meal for two. Look By Plant Love House doesn’t have its liquor license yet, and doesn’t allow B.Y.O.B., so you’ll just have to imagine what this magnificent platter would be like washed down with a frothy schooner of Thai beer.

LOOK by Plant Love House

622 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238 (718) 622-0026 Visit Website

Pye Boat Noodle

35-13 Broadway, Queens, NY 11106 (718) 685-2329 Visit Website

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