I was "in transit" last night and decided to stop by the Pongsri location on 23rd St. to get a bit to eat on the way home.
I haven't been to the other Pongsri locations -- there is one in Chinatown, etc. -- so, I can't compare, but the Chelsea location is an okay place to get pretty good Thai food if you are in the neighborhood. It's almost always a mixed-bag. Some things are amazingly good. Others are ... blah. Sometimes, a single dish can be both amazing and blah. This trip was typical.
(For the life of me, I can't understand the dearth of good Thai restaurants in the city. For eight or nine million people, you have two restaurants with a really great reputation? Seems pretty strange ... We're a long way from Thailand, though. Maybe there just aren't many Thai people here.)
The 23rd St. location of Pongsri is a newer place that has just opened up in the last couple of years. The dining room is spotlessly-clean -- pristine, if you will -- and quite comfortable. Decor consists of some big vases full of flowers and wall-hangings. Main eating area is medium-sized and fits some fifteen tables. If you are accustomed to eating Asian food in locales with a bit more of a grungy character in Manhattan, Pongsri will come as a very pleasant surprise.
Usually when I go, I order an appetizer and a bowl of curry or a plate of noodles. One good appetizer is the peurk todd, which are deep fried slices of taro root served with a sweet/spicy sauce. They remind me of French fries. The fried spring rolls and fried tofu are also pretty good.
This time, I ordered the "fresh spring roll" instead. These were rice-wrapper rolls filled with Chinese sausage, sliced omelette, cucumbers and ... sadly ... "krab" -- imitation processed crab fish food. The rolls were smothered with one of those sweet, dark Chinese sauces. I can't really say that I would knowingly order anything that contains "compressed krab food" or whatever they are calling it these days and I wish I could say that the appetizer was good, but it wasn't. It wasn't ill-prepared. It wasn't anything. It just wasn't good.
For the main course, I ordered the ba-mee green curry, which epitomized both the delights and shortcomings of a meal at Pongsri. The curry "sauce" was fantastic -- everything it should be. Creamy with coconut milk, fragrant with kafir lime and fresh herbs, spicy with green chilis. The noodles were the perfect thing to wrap around the sliced beef and fresh vegetables floating in the sauce. The bowl "looked" beautiful.
The problem was ...
The vegetables were undercooked. The green beans, in particular, were undercooked to the level of being unpalatable. The rest of the vegetables -- carrots, peppers, etc. -- are fine cooked or raw, but green beans? No.
Anyway, I picked out the beans and really enjoyed the rest of the dish. And this is what eating at this location of Pongsri is like: Enjoying some things a lot and picking out the rest and ignoring it.
On previous occasions, I have really enjoyed their pad Thai, the green and red curries with rice and the pad key mao. But there is always something that keeps the meal from being really exceptional. This is a good neighborhood place -- fine if you live in the area or find yourself passing through. It's a bit of a pity that they aren't just "that much better."