One of my favorite cuisines to eat in the dog days of summer is Thai. And one of my favorite dishes is som tom poo plara. There are many types of som tom, or Thai papaya salad. This one though, with its addition of salty preserved crab and pickled fish, is particularly bracing. The chili heat and fishy funk along with the cool crunchy papaya are most restorative on a sweltering day.
My favorite spot for som tom poo plara used to be Poodam’s in Astoria where Ratchanee “Poodam” Sumpatboon made a bangup version. Multiple napkins where involved as I’d pick up the blue crab and suck out the salty flesh dredging balls of sticky rice through the liquor at the bottom of the plate.
I haven’t had a good version since Poodam closed her restaurant several years ago. A few weeks ago the good folks at Larb Ubol reached out to me and I learned Chef Poodam had been cooking at the restaurant named for her home province of Ubon Rachathani for the past year or so.
So I ventured to Hells Kitchen. There I found that the som tom poo plara ($12) was as good as ever. The host seemed surprised when I ordered it, remarking that it was a popular staff meal. It’s the only time I’ve ever been served this dish with a nutcracker. It remained on the table unused as I dug in with my hands.
For dessert nam kang sai ($6), a day-glo pink shaved ice that is as impressive as the salted crab salad. Cubes of wobbly black jelly, sweet corn, chewy palm seeds, and a drizzle of condensed milk top this snow-cone turned salad. If you think calling it a salad is a stretch of the imagination, I have one word for you. Croutons. Well almost, cubes of white bread soaked up the sweet sugary syrup.
I’m glad to know where Chef Poodam wound up, and I’m glad to see real Thai chefs cooking in Manhattan. The nut cracker was a thoughtful if superfluous touch, something better suited to a crab shack. Actually there’s one seafood shack accoutrement I could have used after that meal, a moist towelette. My hands carried the not unpleasant funk of fermented crab for a good while afterwards.
Larb Ubol, 480 9th Ave., 212-564-1822