It takes a lot to get me to eat Thai food outside of Elmhurst, after all Queens’ second smaller Chinatown is the best place in New York City for Southeast Asian fare. And takes even more for me to trek to Brooklyn for Thai food, but I’d been curious about Chef Hong Thaimee’s new spot in Williamsburg, Thaimee at McCarren since it opened back in September. So when my pal Matt Bruck invited me in for a tasting I hurried over there.
Four subways later I found myself chatting with Chef Hong and staring down a plate of yum woon sen, or magic noodle salad. Chef Hong says the magic comes from the fact the vermicelli—dyed an eerie shade of blue thanks to butterfly pea flower—changes to purple when lime juice is mixed in tableside. I disagree. The magic is in the brightly balanced flavors: palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, chili, and garlic.
The banana leaf bundle to the left contained something called pad thai carbonara. My guests and I opened it to reveal a wobbly egg yolk atop a tangle noodle riddled with dried shrimp, chilies, bean sprouts and cubes of both tofu and pancetta. After giving it a good mix we dug in. At first I didn’t quite get it because I was eating out of the same plate that contained the bright citrusy sauce from the magic noodles and it was throwing off the balance. With a clean palate though I immediately saw that the Perry Street vet was using the salty dried shrimp as a stand-in for Pecorino Romano cheese.
“I don’t know why Thai people don’t love pad thai,” Chef Hong said Everybody should love pad thai. I came up with a pad thai carbonara because pad thai is alive, you know it could be any kind.” I’m holding out for an all pad thai eatery, called Pad Thaimee.
The last dish we tried was yum som o kub kung pao or grilled tiger prawn with pomelo salad. It announced itself with a heady aroma of coconut milk and prawn fat. The combination of the Spanish prawn along with the kaffir lime, lemon grass, coconut milk, and pomelo was lovely and even better spooned over rice.
When I asked Chef Hong what kind of style the prawn was regionally she thought for a moment and then responded thusly: “It’s my kind of style. I feel like my blessed to be the bridge between the two cultures.”
Thaimee at McCarren, 160 North 12th St, (718) 218-7500