While most overseas chain restaurants have arrived here with much hoopla, others open without fanfare. One such is May Kaidee, a 29-year-old Thai company that boasts restaurants, health spas, and cooking schools in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phnom Penh.
Our branch appeared on the edges of Curry Hill almost three months ago, shoehorned into a deep, narrow storefront that parallels a building passageway. Illumination is partly provided by hallway bulbs that glance through a series of high windows. Decorated with a golden dancer’s headdress, the small dining room has only a few tables, behind which is an even smaller classroom, separated from the kitchen by a blanket. The premises is charmingly makeshift.
Three friends and I visited the place recently and tried eleven of over 60 strictly vegan dishes offered. Some of the highlights were a plate of battered and fried tofu, which came with a dipping sauce that tasted like a South Indian sambar, and a Chinese cinnamon soup ($10, enough for four to share) with pho-like rice noodles and lots of vegetables. The broth was stunning in its subtlety. The coconut-milk-laced green curry ($15) was as hot as we’d hoped, with some surprising inclusions like broccoli.
Halfway through our meal the cooking-school teacher, who had been conducting a class in the next room, cruised down the aisle handing out freshly made hot sauce.
One surprising aspect of the menu is the successful use of meat substitutes. A laab (ground-meat salad, $9) made with skinless vegetarian sausage was exceedingly tasty, especially when scooped with the crudité provided. Haw mokk, normally a leaf-wrapped mousse made with Mekong River fish, deployed TVP (textured vegetable protein) to good effect, and came dotted with green herbs and drizzled with coconut milk. There’s no stinting on lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves here.
There were some things we didn’t like, including a pumpkin hummus that was an unpalatable shade of green, and a mushroom spread that came with tiny faux sausages that squeaked when you bit into them. On the other hand, a soya-soaked pad see-u was excellent, with just a hint of dark sweetness to the noodles, while a pad thai was not very interesting. But then again, is it ever interesting?
Pad thai notwithstanding, the food at May Kaidee proved better than we’d expected and the place is an asset to the city’s growing collection of Thai restaurants at all price levels. It’s a chain we can learn to love.