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the secret to a fine meal at Pam Real Thai

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the secret to a fine meal at Pam Real Thai

chuletitas | Apr 4, 2005 02:29 AM

Greetings . . .

This is long:

In response to a recent thread filled with general complaints about Pam Real Thai, I feel the need to defend the place and to give fellow diners a tip or two on how to get the most out of the very talented but eccentric kitchen.

I work in the area, and I've eaten at Pam dozens of times. I've also eaten at Wondee Siam on numerous occasions, and I find it quite inferior. However . . . it's nearly impossible to convince the staff at Pam that you want real, very spicy, painfully authentic Thai food. But once you do, you'll be amply rewarded (a few inconsistencies notwithstanding). It's not to equal of SripraPhai (what is?), but on a good day, it can compare.

Here's what you need to do (tips from a regular):

1.) Be almost obnoxious about wanting your food spicy. Pam has an unspoken "chili/star" scale. Tell them you want everything with three stars--possibly even four stars. Assure them that you've eaten there before and that you can handle it. Try to get one of the waiters who's worked there for a while (handsome dark-skinned guy or the Thai-Chinese guy), or ask for Ron, the owner. If it's not hot enough, send it back. I've had a few meals there that made me almost unpleasantly pink and sweaty (and I can handle heat), so I assure you it can be done.

2.) Order wisely: shrimp with stink bean, oxtail soup, crispy pork dishes, crispy duck dishes, whole fish, tom yum, beef/meatball noodle soup, Thai dipping dishes, green papaya salad, green curry, pad kee mao (always request ground meat with your noodles) . . . all of these are great if you can get the genuine edition. Pam has told me that she has two ways of preparing every dish on her menu (regular and Thai style). She assumes that the Theater District foodies cannot handle Thai style, even if they ask. I'm not sure why. Again, you want your food Thai style and in the three-four star range. And it might be hard to communicate this to a novice waiter during the busy dinner hour.

3.) Order off-the-menu dishes or ask if they have any daily specials. Seriously. Push the envelope. The best dishes I've had at Pam have never appeared on the menu. I've hardly seen them on any Thai menus, in fact. Stuff I've enjoyed: fried frog legs with garlic, friend fish in citrus sauce, pad cha (slivered ginger, fried lime leaf and a mess of seafood), steamed mussels with holy basil and citrus dipping sauce, sour bamboo curry, frog legs with chili and basil, "dry" noodle soup with ground pork or beefball, pad woon see (beanthread noodles with cabbage and chicken), fried chicken prik khing (stringbean curry), a poor man's pad thai (forget the name, but it's pad thai noodles cooked in broth, then "dry sauteed" with vegetables, hot green pepper and chicken), green curry noodles, homestyle chicken soup, homestyle soup with mustard greens and Chinese vegetable, and about a dozen others. Occasionally, things get a little TOO authentic, though (weird omlets and yum salad with really raunchy sardines).

4.) Show up between 3pm-4pm and ask if you can partake in the staff meal. I've done this and it's amazing. Just check out what the staff is eating, point at it, and tell them you want one. Again, emphasize that you really, really like your food spicy and that you can handle unusual, potentially foul-smelling ingredients.

I hope this helps. Perhaps I've just been lucky. It shouldn't be so difficult to get Pam to realize that people want the real deal, but it is. I've seen far too many people walk into her restaurant and complain about something being spicy or weird, so I suppose I understand her rationale in serving sweet, salty, sometimes middling food that caters to these people. But if you're willing to do some work, perhaps you'll see the light and perhaps you can change her mind.

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