Being open to criticism is a good quality to possess. That’s especially true of restaurateurs who want to please their clients. When Eddy Tin opened myThai in December, he asked his Bay Ridge customers for their opinions on the food. He received an earful.
Tin, who also owns a successful restaurant called Hoisin, in Sacramento, California, listened to his clientele’s comments: “The food is too hot and spicy,” “the dishes are too sweet,” they said. What happened afterwards is a perfect example of too many chefs spoiling the soup — or, in this case, too much diner input dumbing down the food.
Heeding the feedback, the restaurant’s chef Bo Liang, who cooked at Hoisin, softened the food’s heat. Now the Pan-Asian menu of Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean dishes can be ordered “mild,” “medium” or “hot.” None of it packs much intensity, but there’s a bigger issue with the cuisine.
In Liang’s attempt to appease his mostly Bay Ridge customers, he has muted the spices. So a dish that should arrive with layers of flavor is unsatisfying flat. He’s careful with the ingredients; they’re fresh and what should be crisp is; the meat is tender; fish is moist. There isn’t a single dish I tried though, that elicited much excitement.
The cocktail menu is the first clue that a balance of tart and sweet flavors hasn’t been realized. The standout on the list of silly drinks is “Creamy Sex on the Beach,” a fruity vodka mix that’s a frat boy’s fantasy in a glass. There are some decent choices on the well-priced wine list and a few Asian beers. Stick to those.
Sweet tastes trumped tart throughout the meal. A mango salad swam in a “special sweet and sour lime sauce,” but without big slices of red onion and whole cherry tomatoes that were jarring with the other ingredients, it’s an ordinary fruit salad. And that “special sauce” added nothing but sugary syrup.
There was nothing wrong with a large platter of crunchy, deep-fried calamari until I dipped the tender pieces into the “spicy Vietnamese sour sauce.” Spicy it wasn’t. And sour? Not in the least.
The best dish of the evening was the red curry. The coconut milk sauce that enveloped rich beef slices, silky straw mushrooms and chunks of nutty tasting eggplant, was subtle yet layered with spices. Intriguing hits of mint and basil leaves added a welcome spark to dish.
A heaping serving of chicken breast slices served in the Malaysian “chicken rendang” was almost as good. The meat, soft potatoes and bell peppers pieces soaked up the thick curry sauce leaving each ingredient fragrant and richly textured.
Malaysian short ribs, marinated in black bean sauce with coriander and garlic, missed the mark. They were pleasantly crusty and chewy, but oddly lacking in depth. Like the squid’s partner, the “sweet and mild sauce” was better as a plate decoration than a dip.
The menu states that the “smoked sea bass” is “definitely one of our best dishes!” It wasn’t. The clean taste of the fish was masked in honey syrup that formed a hard, inedible crust on one side of the filet. A little ramekin of mayonnaise sat beside the bass, looking as out of place as a pork chop at a Jewish wedding. And another saucer of “spicy lemon sauce” lacked spice and anything that resembled citrus.
Fried rice with basil made a pleasant accompaniment to the main dishes. Liang described the heat as “medium.” Even with bits of chili pepper, it was about as mild as mild gets, yet not bland, and bits of chopped carrots and bell peppers added their fresh, clean notes.
Taking a breather from the onslaught of dishes, I noticed the wall treatments. Tin took the smooth gold walls of the former Les Babouches, a Moroccan eatery, and revamped it with heavily swirled stucco in a soft olivey green hue. It all just goes to prove that you can take the man out of California, but you can’t take the stucco out of the man. Coordinating, earth-toned woven pillows line the wooden banquettes and during the day, multi-paned windows fill the space with warm light.
Dessert at myThai is either ice cream or sorbet bought from a local purveyor. The green tea ice cream was refreshing and not at all sweet; the mango sorbet had the musky cinnamon taste of the fruit in a rich, creamy base. Both were excellent.
When a restaurateur and his chef listen as carefully to their customers as Tin and Liang have, you want them to do well. Right now the food suffers from middle-of-the-road syndrome: It’s not bad, just not memorable. That’s what happens when you try to please everyone.
myThai cafe (7803 Third Ave. between 78th and 79th streets in Bay Ridge) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $7–$28. The restaurant serves dinner daily. Lunch is available on weekends from noon – 4 pm. Subway: R to 77th Street. For information, call (718) 833-1700 or visit www.mythai.us.