Apart from how to successfully navigate a cavernous dim sum hall one of the most important things I learned about Chinatown from my father is something I like to call Vito’s Law: Chinatown is always changing. With apologies to AristotIe, the corollary is “Chinatown and nature alike abhor a vacuum.” This law holds true for the Chinatown of Elmhurst, Queens, which these days skews more Southeast Asian. All of which brings me to the subject of today’s post, the demise of Plant Love House, a gem of a Thai restaurant that closed shop last month so the owners could focus their efforts on Look Brooklyn, a sister restaurant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, which opened late last year. Personally I was devastated by the loss of Plant Love House as were many of my readers and social media followers. Some requested a lament while others talked of being “heartbroken,” and still others were more strident, “So we lose out!? F**k Brooklyn.”
Two years ago Peak Manadsanan and her daughters, Ploy and Pat, opened Plant Love House on Whitney Avenue with a menu of boat noodle soups, other Thai street food, and desserts. My favorite was keaw teaw num tok a pork lovers paradise—pork blood broth, springy pork ball, pork meat, and a topping of fried skin—along with rice noodles and Chinese broccoli all packed into a tiny bowl singing with some nice chili heat. Truth be told I never much took to the over-the-top toast desserts, but I really liked the egg yolk and coconut ice cream with young coconut meat.
Soon other dishes emerged like khao pad nam plik pla too, which features a broiled whole mackerel and shrimp paste fried rice joined by Thai crudités and nam plik kapi, a pungent concoction made from chilies, garlic, lime, and fermented shrimp paste. Plant Love House also taught me to love pad thai, a much maligned and misunderstood dish.
On a cold February night I partook of my last supper at Plant Love House: the mackerel rice followed by the egg yolk coconut ice cream. I’ll miss Plant Love House. I still haven’t made it out to the new Brooklyn spot, partly due to the commute and partly due to a Queens vs. Brooklyn attitude. Mixed feelings aside I am secure in the fact that Elmhurst, which boasts more than half a dozen Thai spots, including two grocery stores, a weekend only Thai noodle pop-up, a Thai rice and three spot, and the largest Thai temple in New York City will always remain the heart of New York City’s Thai community.
Two weeks ago I walked by the old location and was surprised to see the open sign. For a moment I thought that Plant Love House had reopened, and that the whole thing was a mass hallucination brought on by Instagram addiction. Alas that was not the case, a new joint Dek Sen had taken over the space. It looks to have a remarkably similar menu to Plant Love House. When I popped in I wished the new owners luck and did my best to encourage them to do something new and unique.
So much for that Chinatown vacuum, before it housed Plant Love the space at 86-08 Whitney Avenue was occupied by a Tibetan eatery and before that it was popular dumpling joint. And so it goes in Little Bangkok.