On Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, a cancer has been spreading. Where elsewhere in the city, banks and Duane Reades invade empty storefronts, on this stretch the scourge is Thai restaurants. At my last count, there were — from 14th to 26th streets — ten. And Silom is the newest and most ambitious of these. Not a faux club like Nooch or Room Service; not a chain like Vynl; not musty and old school like Royal Siam; nor a Chinese takeout place masquerading as Thai for more delivery business. No, Silom feels like a restaurant circa 2009.
The intimate space is reminiscent of heralded AvroKO-designed spaces like European Union and Quality Meats, with an aged wood ceiling descending to become a table, and inventive lighting fixtures crafted from glasswear. The inviting space even includes a rarity at an Asian restaurant — a comfortable full-service bar (if you skip the specialty drinks, that is).
But while the look and feel of Silom are refreshingly out of the ordinary, the menu is stale. Hewing to the kitchen sink philosophy of Thai cuisine for most of the entrees, Silom offers ten protein choices — this determines the price — served in a variety of ways (seven sauteés and five choices each of fried rice, noodles and curries). Not to say that what comes out of the kitchen is bad: duck breast ($12) with tom yum sauce had an authentic balance of hot, sweet, and sour, while green curry with fried tofu ($9) is probably the neighborhood’s best (though the pad thai is probably the worst). But there is nothing inventive — other than the practice of charging for white rice — until the Pride of Silom section. This makes me wonder what they feel about the other dishes if not pride. I hope ambivalence and not contempt. But this pride shows through in a house special crab cake ($15), made with fresh lump crab that’s only heightened by a shot of red curry, though an overcooked boneless duck in a surprising red wine sauce ($17) is a master class on the pitfalls and pleasures of fusion. For appetizers, you can’t go wrong with authentic tom yum soup and duck spring rolls, both restorative and brimming with fresh thai herbs.
While this stretch of Manhattan certainly needs fewer Thai options, Silom shouldn’t be the one to close. It eschews the kitsch factor that seems to define some ethnic restaurants, and it’s an infinitely better experience for it. Another hallmark, of course, is the overlong menu, which it inexplicably retains. Hopefully they (and almost every other Asian restaurant in this country) will realize that we don’t want the detritus of Silom, we want its pride.