Thursday, December 31, 2009

PINTO: Would the Real Pad Thai Please Stand Up

Pinto Place Setting.

This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

I've had my share of good pad thai before - from Boston's Brown Sugar to Penang Grill in Stamford, Conn., and Soho's Peep. But the best so far would have to be Pinto.

I picked this spot to celebrate my friend's 22nd birthday because of good reviews from friends over the summer. It was just the three of us. For first-timers, the West Village can be disorienting and you can get lost even with a map. After sufficiently walking in enough triangles to make our heads spin, we finally made it.

Pinto was darkly lit, like a demure, mysterious lover trying to play coy. Small candles throughout illuminated the small L-shaped bar. Our bartender clinked glasses as she deftly blended liquors in the cocktail shakers. Our two male waiters, both lanky and tall, looked like they had popped out of a GQ magazine, or maybe just hipster Williamsburg - one in wavy, messy curls and the other in an asymmetric faux Mohawk that curled into a mini bouffant on top. They were men of few words but were very accommodating, especially when I asked one of them to bring out the cheesecake at the end and surprise my friend.

PCU Noodle.

The guys scarfed down the food fast...especially D. D ordered the PCU Noodle ($10), rice noodle sauteed with sweet dark soy sauce, baby bok choy and egg. I couldn't wrest a complaint from him as he was silent most of the time, forking down to the last bite.

Pad Thai.

A had a very solid Pad Thai ($10), or sauteed rice noodle with tangy tamarind sauce, smoked tofu, Chinese chive, egg and peanut. Maybe not the softest noodles ever, but Pinto's got its flavors down pat. This version is everything that pad thai is supposed to taste like: tangy, peanut-y, slightly sweet, with a spicy finish.

Curry A La Penang.

My eye was immediately drawn to the Curry A La Penang ($12), a red and sweet homemade curry with rice on the side. The tender beef and fresh bok choy were pleasantly pared with a complex medley of milky coconut and sharp, rich spices. That's one lip-smacking sauce, perfect poured over sticky Asian rice. Even better since Pinto uses local, organic ingredients.


Pinto's imaginative creations extend to their specialty drinks. D ordered a cold Guinness and I had a Strawberry Mojito, which I highly recommend. Real crushed strawberries, mint sprigs, rum and other ingredients floated around this leafy concoction (trust me: it tasted better than it sounds). Another signature cocktail is the "Ginger Zinger" (citrus vodka, banana liqueur and fresh ginger).

The cozy, modern decor and subdued atmosphere is low-key enough for a first date and the perfect antidote to a harried work week in the office (or, in my case, the selling floor). Plus, Pinto gets extra points for classy food presentation.

I still don't understand the meaning behind the restaurant's name, as it conjures images of beans and Mexico...and not anything related to Thailand. I grant this is an attempt to be "different" and set itself apart from its peers, which it does skillfully.

Affordable prices, homey Thai food and non-snobby service = relaxing evening spent with friends. Celebratory night achieved!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. OK, so the noodles may not have the most ideal give and the tofu could be softer, but for the sheer "magical" feeling of this place, I give it 4 stars.

118 Christopher St.
New York, NY 10014

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