Electric Siamese acid test
Among my resources for restaurant tips, the food-obsessive amateurs at chowhound.com seem to uncover the best new places first. Less useful is yelp.com, a newer online opinion site whose contributors seem more callow, less fervid about uncovering great restaurants. But I must credit local Yelpers for steering me to S&I Thai, an amazing Allston restaurant that has been operating under my radar for four years.
This 14-seat storefront features one menu in English of familiar, slightly Westernized dishes, and another in Thai of perfectly authentic food. Judging by all the Thai-speaking customers, the latter is the bigger draw. Although toned down for American palates, the English-menu dishes are still fresh and vibrant, pungent enough that you can tell when yours is on the stove. The farang version of pad ga pow ($7.95), a semi-fierce rice plate of ground chicken in spicy Thai basil sauce, is rated five chilies but wouldn’t induce the expected endorphin flow in most diners. To get what the Thai ex-pats are having, you must try to convince the genial but skeptical staff that you want your order “Thai style.”
If you succeed, your dishes will have more chili fire but also a more exquisite counterbalance of other insistent flavors. For example, the abundant chilies in som tum salad ($7.95) are pleasantly searing, but shredded papaya, lime, and dried shrimp provide the clearest notes, while peanuts and sticky rice deliver textural interest. Pad ga pow moo krob ($8.50) is based on “three-layer pork,” chunks of meat with some fat and skin left on, fried until the crackling bubbles and crisps. Chilies and basil provide piquancy, but that rich, marvelously textured pork is still the star. Once you’ve sampled this kind of authentic Thai cookery in all its intensely flavored glory, you may forever have to shun insipid chicken satay and bowdlerized pad Thai. S&I offers a frugal, friendly way to determine if the real thing is for you.
S&I Thai, located at 168A Brighton Avenue, in Allston, is open Monday through Thursday, from 11:30 am to 10 pm; on Friday and Saturday, from 11:30 am to 11 pm; and on Sunday, from noon to 10 pm. Call 617.254.8488.