Ploi Thai offers a different side of Southeast Asia
|Photo gallery: Ploi Thai in Kakaako|
By Lesa Griffith
Special to The Advertiser
By Lesa Griffith
In a space that was a coffee house, and before that the nightclub Bliss, Ploi Thai breaks new ground. According to manager Richard Wong, the owner, a Thai businesswoman who wishes to remain anonymous, wanted good Thai food, so she opened a restaurant.
With a provenance like that, you might expect a food epiphany "so THIS is what penang curry is supposed to taste like." No, the basic dishes aren't that much different from your favorite Thai joint, but Thai chef Olay Somsanith (with input from the unnamed owner) does include dishes not found on other menus, allowing eaters to get off the well-trod green papaya-pad Thai-red curry path to more interesting journeys.
For example, try the Thai-Laos border-straddling dish hor mok, a sort of seafood terrine with a ti leaf serving as the terrine. A mix of shrimp and squid in an almost custardlike medium is topped with an omelet and a layer of coconut cream, which has a light-orange tinge. It looks like a giant uni nigiri. The dish is a sophisticated, subtle contrast to the usual smorgasbord of sweet-tangy flavors.
Likewise sauteed long rice, dotted with finely chopped celery, cabbage, green onion and scrambled egg, is a light, savory antidote to pad Thai.
If you do stick with the tried and true, you'll find the dishes to be well executed. Tom ka gai soup's lemongrass broth is rich and has that multilayered flavor sensation of citrus, coconut and faint sweetness (but it's still beat by the version at Opel Thai Food lunch truck in Hale'iwa). The green curry which you can thankfully get with pork instead of the usual boring chicken is equally flavorful, the sauce a multinote addictive elixir.
For fish you choose 'opakapaka or onaga with one of four sauces: lemongrass-lime, shiitake-soy, tamarind-chili, chili-basil-garlic. On one evening the onaga filet was slightly overcooked, but still a nice, firm seafood bite, with a lighter-than-usual tamarind-chili sauce that accented the onaga rather than smothered it.
Honolulu bargain hounds have already sniffed out Ploi Thai's $12 lunch deal. You choose one appetizer and one entree. Or you can choose one appetizer and two half-portion entrees which is what you should go for, because the half portions are like full orders elsewhere. The list changes, but you might get a selection of tom yum (soup jammed with mushroom, galangal and chicken), green papaya salad, spring rolls, panang beef, pad Thai, fish and beef larb. That includes rice, of course, and chances are you'll take some back to the office with you for a late-afternoon snack.
Lesa Griffith, a former deputy features editor at The Advertiser, is now a freelance food writer.
BIGGER AND BETTER
For years Betty Pang has been talking about moving her popular Green Door Café from its Chinatown cubbyhole to a bigger space. She's done it jumping clear across town to Kahala.
And like Ploi Thai, Green Door seems poised to kill the hex that has hovered over this space, once home to a pub, a Thai restaurant, and most recently a Japanese eatery.
Pang got Chinatown-style mavens Takeo and Eric Chandler to do up the space with Asian antiques, giant vases filled with oranges, and boldly colored walls. The door is still green, and the food is as good as ever.
The favorites are still scribbled on the eraser board five-alarm garlic shrimp, Malaysian-style chicken curry (dip your roti canai in it), marinated pork loin. But Pang is doing a little experimenting, too. A salad of watermelon and pineapple with minced beef is a refreshing and satisfying option. Pang says she was inspired by the traditional Malayasian fruit-and-veg rojak, and she hybridizes it with larb.
Green Door Café, 4614 Kilauea Ave., around the corner from Olive Tree Cafe; 737-6644; 5-10 p.m. daily; BYOB; cash only.