Local Hawaii ingredients used with an international flair
Saturday, February 16, 2008
We want to like Ploi Thai. We've been back several times for dinner (most recently on the two-for-the-price-of-one-entree coupons in the Advertiser).
We like the decor, the service, and the lack of intrusive TV screens. Soft music is so much better than karaoke TV. The air conditioning is perfect, and the acoustics are very mellow.
Sooner or later I have to talk about the food though, right? And that's the dilemma.
Thank goodness for the 2-for-1 dinner entree coupons or we wouldn't be going there at all. Frankly, $18 for an entree is high for a Thai restaurant in Honolulu, and the food just doesn't measure up to the price. And I have heard that they may be revising their menu...
Since Ploy Thai has positioned themselves at the top of the market, that's how they must be evaluated.
The menu includes many dishes not found elsewhere. We've been spoiled, though, by Cookie, who prepared special dishes for us at the now-closed (and very much missed) Club Pattaya on Nuuanu Ave.
Now, I know that many diners go into a restaurant with expectations based on their experiences at similar restaurants. This sets up a kind of "regional cuisine" not related necessarily to the country of origin of the food. For example, in a Thai restaurant in Honolulu, perhaps because of these expectations, you're likely to find an "Evil Jungle Something" and of course green papaya salad. Also the red, green, yellow and Panang curries.
But did you know that there are plenty of other things to eat in Thailand? And finally, any chef innovates. "Hawaii Thai Cuisine" tends to set boundaries, so anything different from the usual is now "fusion" or unusual in some way. In Thailand or any other country, food is served differently according to the place and the particular eating establishment. But here, it may be a constraint for chefs wanting to do something new.
At Ploy Thai they are not afraid. The menu includes dishes you certainly have not seen before in Honolulu (check out the newspaper reviews above).
But do they work? The onaga with lemon grass and lime sauce works. We were happy enough with it (but it's $20). As noted also by Lesa Griffith in the Advertiser review, it was slightly overcooked. The Tom Yum soup with shrimp (Tom Yum Gung) was spicy hot ($13). We also tried the Hiding Princess ($18) but found the chicken inside to be bland and underseasoned. It should have had more flavor. Another specialty, the Hor Mok (also $18) seemed to be made of two parts, a red-curry mouse encasing the shrimp and squid, steamed in the leaf and topped with coconut cream. This also seemed underseasoned.
By "underseasoned" I don't mean the dishes weren't "hot" enough. That, I'm happy to say, they are willing to do. Chili heat isn't everything, and of course it's not appropriate for every dish. By "underseasoned" I mean bland.
We did ask for some nam pla (fish sauce) with chilies and they brought a very nice plate with different condiments.
For $18 an entree I expect more. If a revised menu can be more affordable and the dishes more flavorful, this will be a winner.
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