For the longest time, there wasn’t a great Thai restaurant in the East Village. There were a few decent ones I’d order from once in a while, but none I’d ever recommend to a friend. Not even the popular Isan (Northeastern Thai) restaurant that opened a few years ago on 1st Avenue. I never understood the hype. Somtum Der, the latest Isan-Thai restaurant to open in the neighborhood, however, changes everything.
Just the Sa Poak Kai Tod Der ($8), deep-fried chicken thigh with garlic, makes Somtum Der worth the visit. The meat, being all dark, is juicy and well-seasoned with a crackly, crunchy skin made more delicious topped with lots of fried garlic. The chicken comes with a fishy chili sauce on the side, but so flavorful, it really isn’t needed.
The papaya salads are good as well. Most recently, instead of the classic, I ordered the Tum Poo-Plara which is a papaya salad with salted raw field crabs. Heavy on the fish sauce, at first bite, I was taken aback, but eaten with coconut rice ($4), it was quite tasty. Moreover, the crabs reminded me of gejang, Korean soy-marinated raw crabs, of which I’m a huge fan. And speaking of the coconut rice, this is a must-order. You may be tempted to order the sticky rice ($3) which comes in a cute bamboo basket, but if you care about your taste buds, resist. The coconut rice is always fluffy and wonderfully fragrant with the scent of coconut milk. The sticky rice, on the other hand, is often times hard and dried out.
If sour Thai soups are your thing, you’re in luck. There are four on the menu. My favorite is the Tom Saab Kradook On ($12), a spicy and sour Isan soup full of tender pork chunks and soft pieces of cartilage that crumble easily between your teeth.
If you go to Somtun Der, the lunch specials come with either a small order of the Tom Saab Kradook On or the Super Peek Kai, a spicy sour soup with chicken wings. I like both, but prefer the pork because I have thing for pork and cartilage. Don’t we all?
I adore Thai desserts, and the Taro in Condensed Coconut Milk ($6) served warm with lots of chewy glutinous taro squares doesn’t disappoint.
Sadly, the Snow Ice with syrup ($6), does. While impressive in height, and definitely “fun” in appearance, it tastes of artificial syrup minus 75% the sugar. Also, I don’t understand why it’s served with slices of bread at the bottom. Baffling.
The rest of the food is not. Dear friends, the East Village finally has a Thai restaurant worth writing about.