My attempt to eat through every restaurant in Thai Town had to stop for a while, due to a sudden intense full-body hive reaction I was getting to some foods, that seemed to be set off by 2/3 of the restaurants in Thai Town. Medication found. Back on track.
Went to Yai, after reading about fried catfish salad. Alas, no fried catfish salad left the day I went. Instead, had: sliced beef salad, and roast duck over rice.
Both were pretty good - comfortable, well-made. The beef salad didn't have what I normally love in Thai salads - the weird perfect balance high-pitched high-pressured sweet/salty/sour/spicy - but was more modulated, closer to, say, a Chinese spicy dish then what I'm used to for Thai.
I'll go again soon - any recommendations from strength areas?
Based on what I tried so far - pretty good. Actually, would recommend it as a "first" Thai restaurant if you had to take somebody who was a little afraid of Thai food. It has the least of the slightly alien high-wire balance of other Thai food, and more of a comforting, blended, mellow taste. Would predict that skittish first-timers would be most comfortable here. Indeed, it had by far the highest percentage of non-Thai of any of the ThaiTown restaurants (not included the faux-Thai hipster-rocker joints).
Also: went to more breakfasts at Sunset Siam (excellent fresh soy milk soup early. It goes kind of off after 8:00 and gets that weird soy-bitter thing goin' on. But at 6 AM - glory.) Had pork rice porridge. Turned out to be *the best congee-like thing I've had in town* - delicate rice, nice pork bits, and fresh bits of ginger. Very satisfying.
So, general summation so far of Thai restaurants:
(Renu Nakorn): Renu in its glory days had a sort of simultaneous fineness, density, subtlety, harmonious wonder, and high-octane energy, that was by far the loveliest and achingly perfectest Thai restaurant I knew.
The last three times I've been, it's been mostly empty, and the food's felt kind of dead. Still trying for more subtlety than the other Thai joints I know, but lifeless. Maybe I've had bad luck in timing. Dunno. Sad, though.
GRAND: (note - many of these places are crappy in many departments, but very good in a few.)
Ruen Pair: ordering exclusively off the "rice porridge a la carte" menu and the salads menu - wonderfully balanced, intense combination salad. Intense crispy fish salad. Well-made chinese broccoli with crispy pork. Stay away from stir-fried noodles, all of which are greasy and awful. Curries sort of lifeless. I've been told that this place is Northern/Northeastern, and that curries are outside of their regional speciality. I dunno. Curries suck. Duck soup used to be great - very ducky broth - but now you get decent roast duck in a standard chicken broth. Sad.
Rodded: variable, but most times you get beautiful balanced intense duck soup. BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET GRINGOED. Asians don't have a problem, but non-Asians very frequently get the soup shorn of most of its life. If your soup tastes like caramel and sugar and doesn't have an equally high spice/sour gradient, you got gringoed. Frequently, white folk have to order it extra, extra spicy and sort of argue with the waitress even to get it mild/medium spicy.
What they supply in the kitchen is slightly different from the stuff on the table.
Good wontons, too.
Stewed pork leg over rice is, as jgold wrote somewhere on this board, accompanied with truly excellent homemade pickles, but, as a whole dish, is less to me than that of:
Sunset Siam: OK-ish soups, good breakfasts, and still the best stewed pork leg I've had in this town - deep, murky, pork flavor in evertthing, and frickin' awesome chili sauce.
Sapp Coffee House: still (after about 12 different boat noodle soups) my favorite boat noodle soup. Beef broth has strong beef flavor, balanced against the most brilliantly clear, sparkling sour flavor I've had in ThaiTown. Good roast chicken, pretty good larb, other soups taste of MSG and little else.
Ganda. (Lunch steam tables contain very tasty cold smoked curried catfish.)
Kruang Tedd: Stale spices, stale ginger, no discernable sours, no love.
Sunshine Thai: Greasy, almost indistinguishable from many a $3 cheap Chinese joint. Has a taste I'm starting to recognize as Thai-adapted-to-Mexican-tastes, but I've had better of that style in other places I can't really remember.
Chan Darae: Hey, where'd you put the flavor? I mean, besides the sugar. Did I mention things are really sweet?
Palm Thai: Used to be great. Serious fall-off. Haven't eaten there for a year now. Perhaps it has improved? Still doesn't smell right from outside.
I've still had trouble finding good Bangkok-style curry and pad thai Thai. Most of the places round here tend to stronger in what I'm told is Northern and Northeastern style. Still searching for a fine green curry.