Critics’ choice: Inventive variations on Thai

Phat Thai; Pok Pok Ny; Spin Modern Thai Cuisine

Phat Thai Denver

Mark Fischer probably should have picked a different name for his open, airy, Thai-inspired restaurant, said Shari Caudron in 5280 magazine. The acclaimed chef, who also co-owns Carbondale’s Six89 and Glenwood Springs’ the Pullman, isn’t really offering traditional Thai here. It’s more “an impressionist’s version,” one that blurs the lines between Southeast Asian cuisines for effect. Fischer uses goat in his “delectable” kaeng massaman pae, for instance, and bathes the braised meat in a thick coconut curry laced with cardamom, peanuts, lemongrass, and sweet potato. Neither the “Thai” fried chicken nor the spicy duck—which is paired with shiitake mushrooms and Chinese broccoli—has ever appeared on any menu in Thailand, but they’re both “inspired” inventions. Phat Thai encourages sharing, so it rarely matters much that the kitchen’s execution occasionally falters. If you’re as open to experimentation as Fischer, you’ll find that this lively Cherry Creek North newcomer is “a place worth discovering again and again.” 2900 E. 2nd Ave., (303) 388-7428

Pok Pok Ny Brooklyn

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“Altered perceptions come free with the price of dinner” at this out-of-the-way Thai canteen, said Pete Wells in The New York Times. There are a handful of great Thai restaurants scattered around New York, but not until celebrity chef Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok Ny near South Brooklyn’s waterfront did northern Thailand have a flagship. A region rich in pork and firewood, it gave birth to a cuisine that’s “less incendiary than other Thai cooking, contains almost no coconut milk, and makes great use of the grill.” Ricker re-creates the effect in an outdoor kitchen with a black-barrel smoker, a vertical charcoal rotisserie, and a standard grill or two. You’ll taste charcoal smoke in the kai yaang—grilled hens that “start the meal with a burst of lemongrass”—and in the long eggplants that are roasted until they’re “as soft as pudding and nearly as sweet.” Ricker prides himself on obtaining ingredients you’re not likely to find elsewhere in the city, such as the black crabs that add crunch to his green papaya salad. The tiny crabs are “hard enough to crack molars,” but they aid Ricker in his quest to reproduce northern Thai cooking “with as much fidelity as he can muster.” 127 Columbia St., (718) 923-9322

Spin Modern Thai Cuisine Austin

Chef Ek Timrek isn’t a superstar yet, but he sure cooks like one, said Matthew Odam in After helping his sister Titaya launch Austin’s busiest Thai restaurant and co-founding a food-truck empire with sudden celebrity Paul Qui, Timrek has planted his own flag in an unexpected location: a strip mall near a Super Target. Step inside the clean, modern space and you may not need another Thai option. The tender, lightly charred baby octopus might be the best in town, and that only gets you started. Timrek’s saba mi krob—mackerel dressed with pickled serranos and a ginger-garlic sauce—“seriously impresses,” and the seared duck in a pineapple curry offers “layers of discovery.” Spear any of the spiced grapes on top and it will “release a burst of juicy fury.” For a less fiery meal, try the comforting Thai-style ramen. The “gentle tangle” of noodles sits atop tangy mustard greens and “supports supple pink shrimp and petals of fish cakes.” The food here isn’t just “surprisingly good,” it’s great. 14005 N. U.S. 183, Suite 1000, (512) 258-1365

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