Chef Ben sharpened his knives at the French Culinary Institute before slicing and chopping his way through meals at Siam Thai Restaurant. Each day, he builds platefuls of fried rice flavored with chili peppers, onions, and sweet basil. In other dishes, black-bean sauce coats rice noodles and marinated beef skewers dunk into a peanut sauce. A selection of imported Thai beer completes meals, served in a dining room decorated with Buddha statues and a pair of purple carved swans.
Tom Yum's seasoned Thai chefs create authentic Thai dishes using trademark Thailand spices. The ingredient roster also extends to such flavor-enhancers as ginger, basil, and coconut milk, the kind of milk least likely to come out of a cantaloupe. Along with traditional rice, curry, and noodle dishes, they flame-grill and saut? exotic specialties, including a lobster pad thai and barbecue chicken with papaya salad.
When the owners of V. Thai remodeled the restaurant?s interior, complete with a show-stopping chandelier, they also tackled the menu. Classic Thai curries and noodle dishes join new Vietnamese options, such as traditional Vietnamese pho noodle soups flavored with tripe, brisket, and ox tail. The chefs whip up both Vietnamese and Thai specialty dishes, including caramel-saut?ed fish and the Sizzling Ocean Plate, which serves up the oceans bounty?everything from scallops to squid to sunken treasure?on a sizzling hot plate.
"It sounds like an NYU student’s dream come true," Time Out New York said about Cafetasia, "a sleek eatery on 8th Street serving dishes for less than $10." Indeed, the eatery stands out as a Greenwich Village haven for patrons seeking an innovative dining experience that nonetheless manages to feel inviting and deeply familiar. This sense of déjà vu is most likely triggered by Cafetasia’s cafeteria-style wooden tables—imported from Europe one splinter at a time and reassembled here. These communal tables invite guests to share elbow space as well as a bit of conversation with their fellow diners, much like in a college dining hall.
And much like a dining hall, the menu emphasizes the power of choice by offering a spread of tapas-style small plates; however, the chefs' skills with pan-Asian flavors elevate the cuisine above any cafeteria buffet. Borders don't constrain the chefs' ambition, and they jump from Japan and China to Thailand and Vietnam as they forge their shareable plates. In addition to curries tinged with aromatic doses of basil, pumpkin, or roasted chilies, the menu features teriyaki-glazed chicken, spring rolls with a pineapple-vinaigrette dipping sauce, and ginger-kissed chicken gyoza, which New York magazine called "addictive."
Cafetasia's dining room's décor also aims for a balance between the modern and the familiar. Suspended electric candlesticks seem to float above the tables, casting their gentle light across the rich wooden walls and ceiling. A burnished Buddha statue and a leafy potted plant lend a bit of traditional flair to the restaurant's warm and inviting ambiance.
Lantern Thai crafts inventive and authentic Thai dishes, each elegantly arranged on crisp geometric plates, inside a cinnamon-hued space. Beneath circular chandeliers reminiscent of medieval candelabras, appetizers rejoin ingredients in tasty combinations such as the Lantern’s Angel’s shrimp fried in a coating of crispy angel-hair noodles served with honey-chili dipping sauce. A rainbow of curries sinks beef, chicken, and shrimp into vibrant broths flavored with complex spice blends, and iconic Thai dishes marry noodles and fried rice to bell peppers, pineapple, and meats or veggies. The lengthy drink menu includes three types of saki, lychee-spiked mimosas and mojitos, draft beer, and wine to wet whistles or grease bike chains in a pinch.
The classic Thai curries and noodle dishes that stock Asiam Thai's huge menu come to life amid artistic garnishes of carrots and cilantro perched on funky, sculptural dishes. Cucumbers and scallions lend a crunch to duck rolls encased in pastry shells and drenched in tamarind hoisin. Protein choices such as tofu, chicken, and beef can star in creamy, coconut-based curries and tangles of glass noodles alongside more exotic options such as vegetarian duck, squid, or scallops. A sleek, black corner storefront with floor-to-ceiling windows frames the riot of color on the plates, and the dark-wood bar that slides along one side of the room beckons quick bites or even quicker naps.