A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Jan 2.



Lunch

Klong7 St. Mark's Pl., East Village
Chicken Tom Yum Soup, Rangoon shrimp with spicy lime sauce, Chicken Kee Mao (extra spicy), Thai Iced Tea with fresh apple syrup, Thai Iced Tea (regular)
$22

When I first walked by Klong, I looked at its dimly lit interior, ornate gold-sculptured façade and sleek entranceway art, and shook my head in disdain. Here was yet another symptom, right up the street from the newly opened Chipotle and Supercuts, that my neighborhood was deep in the throes of gentrification. Here was another swank hangout ready to sling pale imitations of Thai food and overpriced Red Bull and Vodkas for wannabe hipsters and unwitting tourists. Then I walked up to the menu and did a double take. The prices, even next to a trendily named Lychee Siamese Duck, were remarkably reasonable, the same kinds of prices you’d pay, in fact, at any neighborhood Thai joint. Still suspicious, I figured that all this dressing up was just a distraction from mediocre cooking. Five visits later, I have been happily proven wrong time and time again.

Because it flouts convention in several ways, Klong is a difficult place to classify. One way I’ll try is to say that it’s a strange hybrid of upscale Thai restaurants such as Spice Market or Kittichai and downscale neighborhood Thai joints. That’s not entirely right though either. Spice Market and Kittichai, armed with celebrity chefs, are far more interested in Asian fusion, inventing such offerings as Vietnamese coffee tapioca affogato and Hudson Valley foie gras with pineapple marmalade. Klong, on the other hand, sticks primarily to the classic noodle, curry and fried rice dishes, but even when venturing into more creative realms with certain appetizers, entrees and mock meat offerings, grounds them in a more concretely Thai context. Yet with its unique and relaxing décor, replete with abaci walls, running water and even elegant bathrooms (!), the use of stacking, decorative spicing and square plates in food presentations, and a cocktail menu that wouldn’t be out of place at a Chelsea hotspot, Klong hardly fits alongside its simpler brethren.

Still, all of this would be irrelevant if the food weren’t great. It isn’t quite Kittichai caliber (then again, I shelled out $90 for dinner there), but for “regular” Thai fare, it is certainly a cut above what you’d find almost anywhere else. Of course, purists would argue that it isn’t as authentic as a place like Sripraphai, the famed Woodside restaurant that Frank Bruni in the Times awarded two stars to, and of course, they would be right. But Klong isn’t trying to be Kittichai or Sripraphai. It’s happy being what it is: a modest restaurant with lofty intentions, and I’m more than happy to keep coming back. After all, who needs classifications and dissections when you’ve got a plate of Spicy Basil noodles waiting in front of you? 7/10

Dinner

Loreley7 Rivington St., Lower East Side
A stein of Spaten Oktoberfestbier, Potato soup with smoked bacon and croutons, some of Vince’s pretzels, Cheese spaetzle with mixed salad, some of Vince’s pork schnitzel with French fries, Apple strudel with vanilla cream
$46.50

Germans are heavy. Think Nietzsche. Think Kant. Think Rammstein. Think fried wiener schnitzel drenched in gravy, generous portions and beersteins almost the size of my head. After work today, Vince and I drove out to Loreley just off of Bowery, a restaurant I’ve been looking forward to trying ever since I returned from Eastern Europe in September. I wasn’t even that crazy about the food in Berlin (save for the impossible-to-find-here döner kabobs), but I loved the convivial atmosphere of the biergartens. I wanted to see how a New York facsimile could stack up against the real article.

Since I narrowly missed out on going to Oktoberfest, I opted for the Spaten Oktoberfestbier, which the company brews specifically for the beerfest in Munich. Feeling optimistic, I ordered a stein’s worth, whereas Vince chose a glass of lighter Radeberger Pilsener from the long list of drafts. His looked puny next to my hulking mug, which, he said, made him feel like he was naked in the high school locker room again. Brilliant.

The beer was great and instantly reminded me of my wayward nights trekking from garten to garten. My soup too was even better than I expected, exhibiting surprisingly complicated and rich flavors from the first bite. The dark bread croutons floating at the top provided a nice crunchy complement to the soup and the addition of bacon to the mix added a lot to the great taste. I had no trouble finishing off the bowl. Also fantastic were Vince’s pretzels, which had salt crystals baked in (they might have been a little too salty for me although they went very well with both the soup and beer.) The best feature of the pretzels was how warm and soft they were. I’d never had anything like them in Germany, although I wish I’d found out about them a long time ago.

Then came the entrees which led to my major disappointment. I’d chosen the spaetzle, wildly mistaking what I’d be getting. I had gone with the spaetzle because I wanted something lighter at this point (that may be impossible in German culture) and had pictured these flour-and-egg dumplings containing cheese and coming unadorned. Instead, they were saturated with cheese on top and onions inside. Since I don’t eat onions, and I was already getting full on what I’d had, I was not excited about the food in front of me. I poked around the melted cheese and scraped away the fried onions, picking out the tasty spaetzle, but it only made me more frustrated to find out how good it would have been if it’d come the way I’d pictured. I was jealous of the schnitzel Vince had picked, and after tasting a piece and having some of his McDonald’s-esque fries (one of the few times I will use McDonald’s in a complimentary fashion), I was bummed that I hadn’t ordered that instead. Actually, I think I would have enjoyed any of the other entrees. But Vince, undaunted by either cheese or onions though, finished off the rather large portion of my dish that I gave up on, confirming either that the spaetzle just wasn’t intended for me or that he’s a fat American pig.

I continued plowing forward with my beer, in the hope that dessert would redeem my restaurant experience. I hadn’t actually planned on ordering any, but Vince, being the dessert fanatic, ordered one and I couldn’t resist the (nonexistent) peer pressure. We both went for the apple strudel, a delectable dish that once again won my faith in the small kitchen. The strudel was flaky and warm with a well-proportioned seasoning of cinnamon and apple filling. The vanilla cream poured along the center of the dessert was an interesting addition, and a nice variation from the typical ice cream route. Even with this deviation, the strudel was simple, unpretentious and tasty.

As good as the meal was though, I remembered why I ate German food so rarely. On my way home, I felt so heavy that I suspected they'd slipped a lead weight into my strudel. My stomach bloated forward and my sides ballooned out, and I had to waddle more than walk. Now, five hours later, as I write this, I still feel just as full and fat. What's the lesson in all of this? Even as Wittgenstein and Wagner have their many virtues, they're just too heavy ultimately to enjoy on a frequent basis. But when I am in the mood for it, I'll be glad that Loreley's there. 7/10

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