Thai food in the East Village next to The Penny Farthing, a pre-fab Irish bar that gets an NYU velvet rope crowd on weekends — you might be forgiven for not expecting some of New York's best Thai food. But as my high school Shakespeare teacher Mr. Bridges noted, "It's all about appearance versus reality." The reality of Ngam is that it deserves more attention. This is not your local pad Thai spot. Ngam, "Thai" for beautiful, is also part of its chef's name: Ngamprom “Hong” Thaimee. Her bio includes stints at: Kittichai, Spice Market, Perry St, and with Thailand’s most celebrated chef, M.L. Sirichalerm Svasti (McDang). There's a spectacular banana leaf steamed tofu, Thai marinade chicken wings, Chiang Mai sweet potato fries, a great red curry, and whole fish.
But two dishes stand out. One is the Papaya Pad Thai, made with crunchy, juicy papaya noodle and your choice of chicken, pork, tofu, vegetables, shrimp, or calamari. The other is the Thai burger. I know. A Thai burger? No offense to the chef, but it sounds like the worst of the worst in terms of comfort trends meeting trendy cuisines. But I'm telling you, this is one of New York's best new burgers. Ordered medium-rare, the burger sits on an airy, moist bun slathered with Sai Oor curry paste and cilantro lime mayonnaise, then topped with crunchy green papaya kraut and served with Chiang Mai fries. There's tremendous flavor, fresh ingredients, and fantastic texture. Did I mention the chef was a model in Thailand who represented Pantene and Nescafe across Southeast Asia? I know how it sounds — a model making a great burger next door to a college bar — never thought I'd make that recommendation. But go get that burger. And for these reasons this dish made my list of most memorable meals of 2011.