Archive for December, 2011

Pure Thai Cookhouse

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 by virginia

Josh and I ate at Pure Thai a little while ago, when it was called Shophouse rather than Cookhouse, but the menu looks the same despite the name change. We were there for lunch, when the portions are slightly smaller but the prices are cheaper as well. I loved the decor of the restaurant, which reminded me of the food stalls in Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan. It was pretty rustic, with plain tables and low, backless stools. There were assorted condiments on the table so that you could adjust the spiciness and sourness of your dishes accordingly.

We shared a few appetizers from the “snacks” section to start. First was crispy tofu, which we can never resist at Thai restaurants. It wasn’t a huge portion but there were five large pieces of tofu, freshly fried, with crispy outsides and soft, slightly chewy insides. There was a dipping sauce on the side with chopped peanuts, tamarind, and chili sauce mixed together. The sauce was slightly sweet, slightly sour, and paired nicely with the plain, crispy tofu.

Crispy tofu with peanut and tamarind-chili gastrique

Our other appetizer was the steamed fresh roll stuffed with crab meat, pork sausage, cucumber, and smoked tofu. The wrapper was soft and chewy and could barely contain all the ingredients inside. I tried to bite a piece in half and it sort of fell apart, but the flavors melded together pretty well. There were lots of different textures going on, and the sausage was the predominant flavor. There a tamarind reduction underneath the roll that provided some sweetness and moisture to the dish.

Steamed fresh roll with crab meat, pork sausage, cucumber, and smoked tofu

For our entrees, we split two noodle dishes, since we had heard that the restaurant was famous for its noodles. First was their signature dish, the ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles. The thin egg noodles are handmade and have a wonderfully springy texture to them. They’re firm but not overly so, with a nice chewiness that I found pleasing to eat. The noodles are topped with roasted pork, lump crab meat, yu choy (a green leafy vegetable), and scallion. The roast pork was similar to Chinese style roast pork found in fried rice, with pink edges and a slight sweetness to them. The pork was slightly dry but flavorful. The crab meat wasn’t abundant in the bowl of noodles, but the dish was deliciously savory. I don’t know if there was a sauce or what, but it was like a big bowl of umami, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles

Everything all mixed together

Our second dish was the pad kee moa, which has replaced pad thai as our standard for testing out new Thai restaurants. The kee moa on the menu features calamari, but we substituted chicken instead. The dish features flat wide noodles with tomato, baby bok choy, snow peas, chili puree, and thai basil. The dish is also known as “drunken noodles” or “spicy basil noodles”. The noodles have a slight kick to them but aren’t too spicy, and basil is the flavor that I find most predominant. Pure Thai’s version was pretty good flavor-wise, but I thought the noodles were a bit too soft for my liking.

Pad kee moa with chicken

Overall Josh and I both really liked Pure Thai. The food seemed more authentic to us in terms of flavor, and they are willing to adjust the spiciness of the dishes upon request. The menu isn’t very extensive but they have some of the more standard Thai dishes available, as well as a choice of protein. We loved the flavors and textures of the ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles. It was my favorite dish of the meal, hands down, but there are lots of other things on the menu that we didn’t get to try. Pure Thai isn’t the standard hell’s kitchen Thai restaurant, which definitely makes it worth checking out.

Pure Thai Cookhouse
766 9th Ave. between 51st and 52nd
New York, NY

Casa Bella

Monday, December 12th, 2011 by virginia

We used to go to Little Italy all the time for our weekly Sunday night dinners with Josh’s family. We had our favorite standby, Buona Notte, but went there so often everyone eventually got tired of it. We bounced around a few other places, like Angelo of Mulberry Street and Pellegrino’s, but nothing else stuck. The annoying part about walking down Mulberry St. is the people standing outside each restaurant trying to get you to go inside. They can be quite obnoxious, and we tend to avoid the pushier places. Since we didn’t have any real idea of where to go, we just looked at a few menus posted outside and picked a place that seemed to have a lot of people dining. That’s how we ended up at Casa Bella.

The restaurant is pretty big and has both indoor and outdoor seating (weather permitting, of course). They gave us a nice round table next to the window so we could people watch a bit, and it wasn’t too loud inside so we could still carry on a conversation. Our meal started off with a basket of Italian bread, which was pretty standard but tasty with butter. It had a nice crispy crust and a chewy inside.

Basket of carbs

There were five of us at dinner so we decided to share a caesar salad for two and a margherita pizza for our appetizer course. The caesar salad was well prepared, with lots of crisp romaine tossed in a creamy but light caesar dressing. There was lots of grated parmesan on top and some crunchy croutons.

Caesar salad

The pizza was pretty good for a place that doesn’t specialize in it. The crust was thin and crispy, with good color on the bottom. The sauce was tangy, not too sweet, and the cheese on top was browned and bubbly.

Margherita pizza

Underside shot

For our main course, I chose rigatoni alla vodka while Josh had chicken parmesan. The vodka sauce was a touch too creamy for my preference, but the flavor was there. The tangy tomato sauce helped cut through the richness, and the sauce was well seasoned. The rigatoni was cooked nicely to al dente.

Rigatoni alla vodka

Josh’s chicken parmesan was a massive piece of pounded chicken that was well breaded and nicely fried. The edges were browned and crisp, and the breading stood up under the thick covering of melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. I stole more than a few bites off his plate but luckily he didn’t mind since the portion was so big.

Chicken parmesan

Overall we were pleasantly surprised by the food at Casa Bella. We had initially written it off as just another Little Italy tourist trap but the food was solid. The menu is extensive and features the usual classics, and the red sauce is tasty enough to carry a lot of the dishes. Prices are average, with apps around $10-$12, most pastas around $15-$18, and regular mains in the $18-$22 range. Definitely not cheap, but reasonable, especially given the location. It’s not a special or spectacular place, but it’s one of the better places we’ve tried in Little Italy. I’d be happy to return.

Casa Bella
127 Mulberry St. at Hester St.
New York, NY