When Beet opened in October, I thought,
"Oh, great. Just what Park Slope needs, another Thai restaurant."
The neighborhood’s two main dining boulevards, Fifth and Seventh
avenues, are already quite well served by Thai eateries.
But Beet’s uber-hip decor set it apart from the rest. Touches like the deep red walls that curve over the top of the ceiling, the curved modern lamps, and a border of mosaics behind the tables create a modern backdrop for dining.
It’s a setting one is more accustomed to finding in less family oriented neighborhoods like Williamsburg - but it provides a good excuse for ordering one of the many specialty cocktails. I’d start with the crisp, fresh "Bolini," sparkling wine served in champagne glass made delicately fruity thanks to a touch of pear liqueur. Slivers of ginger lend the drink a jolt of heat. The "Arigato Martini" had an intense litchi nut flavor that I also loved (only professionalism prevented me from having a third).
Beet is the second restaurant opened by Pat Rodsomarng. The first, Mango Thai, opened in November, 2003 on Seventh Avenue. Beet’s cuisine is more experimental than Mango, with French touches and some unusual pairings.
My dinner there had its highs - with some dishes carefully cooked and complexly flavored - but there were a couple of downers, too. A few plates held either over- or under-salted creations, and in some cases the spicing was tame.
The "coconut shrimp" is an example of the kitchen at its peak. A generous portion of cleanly fried, crisply battered crustaceans were light and crunchy and brightened by a red curry and plum dipping sauce. It’s disappointing when something with such finesse is followed by "grilled flank steak salad," a dish with too many off notes. The first flaw is slightly overcooked meat marinated in overpoweringly salty chili-lime juice. Beneath the beef was a mix of lettuce and under-ripened tomato wedges. I tried wrapping the meat in the greens and topping it with a sprig or two of basil and mint, but the herbs did little to tame the seasoning.
Lemongrass and lime were assertively sour in the "tom yum" soup, although the shrimp, mushrooms and slices of green and red peppers were cooked to just the right degree.
The kitchen team turns out two fish dishes that could be improved by more assertive seasoning. The huge prawns in the "jumbo shrimp and scallops with brown butter sauce" were tender and sweet, and the scallops as large as a baby’s fist. Although both were nicely caramelized, the rich sauce that accompanied them could have used a pinch more salt and something tart to brighten its flavor.
Under the "wow" section of the menu, is a large filet of steamed red snapper served in a banana leaf and splashed with Panang curry sauce. The fish is moist and meaty and the deep green leaf it sits on makes an attractive presentation. If only the coconut curry sauce had more oomph.
There is one signature dish that shows up often as a special: "French rack of lamb with ratatouille and mint leaf jelly." It features six grilled, smoky lamb chops, each with a thin, impossible not to chew, band of charred fat. They’re accompanied by a stew of just-crisp-enough, forcefully seasoned, eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onions that stand up to the meat. Dabs of pungent pesto intensified the musky lamb and lent a welcome tart note to the stew. Deep green spoonfuls of mint jelly make a natural partner with the lamb, but struck an off chord with the vegetables.
As an American diner, I bring certain expectations to the dessert course. One is that whatever concludes the meal possesses a bit of sweetness. After tasting the dense coconut rice pudding, my diner companion said, "Think of it as a cheese course." I tried, but salty pudding just doesn’t do it for me. Neither did one-dimensional fried spring rolls filled with bananas and drizzled with honey. A squiggle of chocolate - not traditionally Thai, but little about Beet is - would go a long way towards improving this dessert.
From the outside, the eatery resembles any other, self-consciously stylish outpost. The waitstaff is warm and admirably graceful even as they dart to the tables with their arms stacked with plates. Yes, there were a few flaws in the meal, but I believe this place can evolve into more than just another Thai place.
Beet (344 Seventh Ave. bet. Ninth and 10th streets in Park Slope) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $8-$17. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week. Delivery available to surrounding neighborhoods. For information, call (718) 832-2338.