While Rhong Tiam labels itself as a Thai restaurant, calling it Pan Asian with an emphasis on Thai cuisine, would prove a more accurate description of it.
Inconspicuous among a row of NYU buildings and a few dowdy and war horse type of restaurant establishments on a set back strip of La Guardia Place sidewalk, this long and narrow nook of a restaurant puts out bold Asian flavors that will keep you coming back for more.
The prices range from low to moderate and at dinner time, it’s no great feat to make this a $25 and under experience if you’re willing to abstain from spirits. If not, wine there’s a modest selection of wine and beer. Contrary to the pictures of grunge and gloom that must now be forming in your head based on the frugal-friendly nature of Rhong Tiam, it’s not lacking in ambiance and its subtle decor is tasteful. Having studied at NYU in the nineties, I can remember at least two previous incarnations of this space. One was Chinese and the other a Pan Asian. Neither cam close to Rhong Tiam in flavors and atmosphere.
Rhong Tiam has upgraded the decor in ways that are immediately striking. The furniture and upholstery are in shades of antique white, with similarly colored fabric light shades. The lighting is soft and ambient jazz and Afro-Caribbean rhythms are played in the background. While it might not be an obvious choice for a romantic encounter, it shouldn’t be discounted either. Certainly the food will prove big enough an attraction.
Most recently, I enjoyed the five-spice duck confit soup with wide rice noodles, egg, Chinese broccoli and white and black soy sauce. This was a feast of flavors.
The broth was complex, yet bright with cilantro and notes of lemon grass –it was deeply warming and heavenly to the palate.
The duck was tender and lean with the skin lightly crusted. The Chinese broccoli was fresh and toothsome. The noodles were tender. The decorative fried wontons added nice texture to the mix. The portion was large and would not have warranted completion given the fact that my dinner companion and I had shared appetizers of shumei and fried tofu, but the flavors and aromas before me were simply not to be resisted.
And at $13 for lean duck with fresh vegetables, how can you go wrong?
The peanut chicken rama that my dinner companion ordered was not as surprising but was delicious as well. The chicken was tender and fully coated in a thick, creamy, flavorful peanut sauce and was served atop a bed of steamed broccoli. The order came with an order of steamed jasmine rice. While it did not reach the heights of flavorful complexities of my soup, my dinner companion enjoyed it and it was not difficult to imagine this dish being overall satisfying.
Resolved to go all out and suspend our mutual better judgment, my dining partner and I even managed to split a dessert. We were set on trying the Thai tea creme brulee, but discovered that they were out of it.
Our friendly waiter recommended the pumpkin custard. It was the size of a meal and the presentation was festive with ribbons of caramel poured over the dessert creating the effect of a Halloween ornament.
So elaborate was the presentation that we hesitated for a few moments before cutting our way into it. The custard was compact and was served as a three layered slice. A thick, meaty pumpkin custard occupied the outer region of the slice. In the center was a softer, sweeter coconut custard.
Although they are not what I would immediately associate with custard, the textures were interesting and while the flavors were nothing to rave about, they satisfied the sweet tooth. The entire experience including a glass of wine and a beer, two appetizers and tax and tip cost us less than $40 per person.