Monday, January 9, 2012

Even Thai Food Novices Can Be Dazzled by Pho Thai Nam

The other night, we were coming home from the Harrisburg Farm Show when the in-laws suggested that we go out for "Chinese." Why is Chinese in quotes? Because, and I suspect this was done on purpose due to my own culinary fears, when we actually showed up at the restaurant, it was not Chinese at all. It was Thai/Vietnamese. To be a little more exact, it was Pho Thai Nam, a restaurant in East Norriton, Pa. I have to say, I was none too pleased when we showed up at the spot and I realized what was going on. However, I quickly realized what a wonderful hidden jewel this place was, and how much I had been missing by avoiding Thai food all these years.

First of all, I had a great time just sitting in the restaurant. I found the decor to be quite pleasing with bold colors, overhead lamps that were shaped like flowers, and some tables being formed in the way of bamboo gazebos. Was it a little kitschy to have Thai television programs playing on a TV screen above the wait station? Perhaps. But I bought in, although I think that could also be due to the incredibly friendly service we got from our main server and another gentleman who looked to be a manager.

For appetizers, I was more than happy to let my mother-in-law do the choosing. I probably would not have known what to ask for anyway. She ordered three main appetizers and a salad that may have ended up being the revelation of the meal. The fortune bags were stuffed with minced chicken, shrimp, crab meat, and mixed vegetables. They were fried to a golden brown and served with a sweet and sour sauce. While I found them to be tasty, I was not a fan of the texture of the bag itself. They were made to resemble the feel of a fortune cookie, and while I love them as an after-dinner treat, I didn't really love the crumbly texture in an appetizer. The Vietnamese fried egg rolls were probably my least favorite of the appetizers. Again, they were filled with goodies like pork, crab meat, and shrimp, but I felt like they were lacking a little bit in the flavor and spice departments. I augmented them heavily with sweet-and-sour sauce. They were fine, but not great. Now, the dumplings. They were great.

Steamed and filled with tender chicken, this establishment's dumplings were absolute perfection. They were firm and contained just the right amount of moisture. Once dipped in ginger sauce and laced with a little sriracha, this serving of eight dumplings is the perfect pre-dinner morsel. And if you are looking for a palate cleanser to cherish, definitely try the papaya salad. This is an item that, when it was ordered, was the one thing I was sure I would not try. However, I tried it "to be nice" and could have ended up clearing the entire plate. The plate consists of fresh iceberg lettuce and shredded green papaya, carrot, tomato, and string bean, and is dressed with an incredible roasted peanut and spicy lime juice. The topper is so incredible you'll find yourself wanting to make a recipe inquiry.

As for my dinner, I can tell you about two meals because I cleaned my own plate and then found myself making a healthy dent into some of my wife's. I warmed up with a wonton soup (couldn't resist a bit of a Chinese acquiescence). It was very good because, well, I already knew that the dumplings were splendid. The broth, however, also had a wonderful kick to it. While I'm sure it isn't this simple, it seemed to have a perfect amount of (maybe) soy sauce mixed in to enhance the flavor. In any event, I found myself tilting the bowl so as to not miss a drop. For the main dish, I had the pineapple fried rice with chicken. I know. It's a bit of a "gringo" dish, but I wanted to walk before I crawled. I asked for it "a little spicy," and I think they went more on the "a little" side, but that does not take away from what was an exceptional dish. Garnished with fresh cucumber and tomato, the largely rice dish was aided by (duh!) copious chunks of chicken and pineapple. I put a little of the Rooster and ginger sauces on for that extra heat, went to work with the chopsticks (trust me, I am quite agile with those things), and before you know it, the waitress was taking away an empty platter. Just a very satisfying meal.

The wife had the pad thai with chicken. Topped with bean sprouts, red cabbage, lime, and crushed peanut, the noodles were precisely cooked until firm. They were also a little hotter than my dish, which was nice. The rising temperature in my mouth made me feel fine about washing back another Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, a complex lager that contrasted perfectly with the meal's varied flavors.

Oh, that is the other great thing about Pho Thai Nam: It is a BYOB. And judging by the fairly cavernous eating space and the not-so-crowded environment, it would be perfect for large-group dining. We plan to take advantage of it for a future gathering of our friends. If you are a fan of delicious Thai food (or even if you are a novice just dipping the toe in the water), you should give it a try as well.

Pho Thai Nam
144 West Germantown Pike
East Norriton, PA 19401
Pho Thai Nam on Urbanspoon

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