As popular as Thai food has become in New York, our restaurants tend to fall into two camps — there’s the highly Americanized spots, serving wan green curries and sugary Pad Thai, and resolvedly authentic eateries; featuring searingly spicy chili peppers and potentially challenging proteins, such as game hen, duck liver, boar collar and pigs ears.
But Ngam in the East Village takes a playful approach, injecting complex, regional Thai dishes with a bit of American cheek. That’s why, amongst the small plates, you’ll find colorful Chiang Mai Fries; spears of kabocha pumpkin and sweet potato dipped, not in ketchup, but in housemade red curry mayo, and sweet and sour peanut relish.
And that’s just for starters — focused on using sustainably-sourced seafood, hormone-free meat and farm-fresh ingredients (Ngam’s list of suppliers is just as impressive as your average locavore joint), offerings are often highly seasonal; think butter-yellow bowls of Chilled Corn Chowder, redolent of Thai chiles, basil, lemongrass and galangal. And while you can certainly order “Authentic Old School Pad Thai,” take note of the version made with zucchini noodles, and another featuring strands of toothsome papaya, tossed with farm eggs, peanuts and tofu.
At many restaurants, main courses are often the least adventurous, but that’s hardly the case at Ngam. In addition to the “Sai Oor Farang” Thai Burger (slathered with saioor curry paste, cilantro mayo and green papaya kraut, and accompanied with a side of those fries), there’s also a Lamb Massaman Roti Potpie; a sizzling casserole of locally-raised lamb shoulder dotted with sweet potatoes and cashews, simmered with mild, clove-scented curry, and topped with buttery flatbread. Although, it doesn’t hold a candle to their Lobster Kao Soy; an end-of-summer take on the classic Northern Thai dish. Traditionally a stew of boiled and crispy egg noodles, yellow curry and chunks of chicken or pork, Ngam’s iteration features whole Maine lobster claws bobbing alongside thin-skinned lobster dumplings, flavored with shallots and pickled mustard in a delicate, coconut-based broth.
As far as we’re concerned, there’s plenty of room in New York for Thai spots of all stripes; from uncompromisingly authentic to decidedly far from! But if you’re looking for an establishment that truly toes the line, take a shot at Ngam — we bet you’ll never drown your french fries in common ketchup again.