The Little Thai Place That Can’t (Yet) 

Pinto, 118 Christopher St, 212-366-5455
Price range: $20-$35  Rating: 2 L's

Greenwich Village Thai cuisine has become pretty staid. No matter how the restaurant is dressed up, from Toons' faux-Starck makeover to the hole-in-the-wall takeout joints, every menu has the same 12 dishes, prepared with little flair. That's why it was refreshing to happen upon Pinto, a rigorously modern and elegant Thai kitchen serving adventurous (seasonal!) Thai cuisine — on the western reaches of Christopher Street, no less. It's just a shame the restaurant couldn't live up to its admittedly lofty ambitions.

I've never been to a new restaurant with this much money behind it that had so few diners — during the course of our meal, there were just four others in the restaurant. Which could be nice. At least you'll get great service, right? Wrong! It took 30 minutes to get someone's attention so we could order, and we had to completely abandon hopes of getting more than one drink during the meal. Well, at least they won't run out of anything... Wrong again. They ran out of the salmon ravioli my girlfriend lusted after. And, to the consternation of a vegetarian friend, they ran out of tofu. I know they didn't have more than ten covers that whole night, so obviously they couldn't have had any when they opened. He ended up ordering mushrooms with green curry, the only vegetarian item they could do. The restaurant they pretend to be would have popped into the bodega across the street and picked up a pack of tofu.

Our appetizers, which were all artfully presented, were uniformly bland, save for the spicy yet ethereal Chili Foam with Crispy Lotus and Shiitake Rolls ($7). However, Peanut Chicken Canapé ($7) and classic Mee-Krob ($8) — sweet and sour rice crispies using noodles instead of rice — had little to recommend. Entrees were likewise spotty. My Berkshire Pork Chop ($19) was a fantastic, juicy hunk of meat, but the accompanying lime sauce was gritty and unpleasant. Pad Thai with Shrimp had a nice, traditional flavor (it had better at $16) and some fresh bitter herbs brightened it up, but the noodles were overcooked, bordering on gluey. The vegetarian's Green Curry ($16) with mushrooms wasn't what he wanted, but had a nice, if overly safe, flavor, with large hunks of shiitake, baby bella, and gigantic king oyster mushrooms floating about. Oddly, it didn't come with rice, nor did the waiter recommend any.

Pinto the space has amazing promise — at least once they get a sign. Pinto the kitchen looks D.O.A. after a year of planning, unless they get new front and back of the house staff, and work to get the word out.
But at least they're trying something different.

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