New York City is a fascinating place for many reasons, but one I keep coming back to is the unique fact that it’s a city both rooted deeply in history and one that is constantly transforming and evolving. It’s a city marked by neighborhoods, and with each neighborhood comes a widely accepted set of cultural assumptions and stereotypes. A few obvious examples are the tourist-ridden, neon-lit Times Square, the swanky Greenwich Village that’s home to many celebrities, and the Financial District (that’s FiDi to you) with its multitude of skyscrapers and overworked businesspeople.
Then, there’s Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve heard this corner of Manhattan called “gritty,” “an Irish slum,” “a food dessert,” and “ugh.” I worked on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen while at Food Network Magazine, and did my fair share of wandering through the ‘hood. I never once thought any of those things (maybe I just lack the observation skills of a true New Yorker), though I did notice an abundance of Thai restaurants. Mo Rocca agrees. Last week, NYC Food Bloggers and I discovered that not only is that Thai food pretty darn good, but at Ember Room, it’s also got a touch of class.
The warm, trendy dining area was buzzing when we arrived at 7:00, and got busier throughout the night. We didn’t have to wait long before our family-style meal began and the appetizers arrived. The crispy papaya salad and Thai lettuce wrap were both spot-on, but my favorite were the oh-so-flavorful Thai tacos. Can you say, shredded chicken, bean sprouts, chives, peanut, coconut, tofu, and chili sauce?
Heritage pork belly, volcano chicken, and sunshine fried rice followed.
It was a filling, flavorful meal, rounded out nicely with a bite of flourless chocolate cake and the last of my Sipping Emotions cocktail. (Get this for the giant ball of ice, if nothing else.)
This place is certainly no dive. Come if you have a little extra money to spend on ambiance and carefully-plated (delicious) modern Thai food. Or come if you want to understand there’s much more than “grit” and “ugh” in the little corner of Manhattan known as Hell’s Kitchen.