Thought you knew what to expect at a Thai restaurant? The talented chef/owner of Larb Ubol, Ratchanee Sumpatboon will make you think again. She’s bringing “Issan” food to midtown, a cuisine from the Laotian border of Thailand that’s as different from the coconut milk-drenched creations most of us have tried as ice cream is from pickles. Instead of sweet, soupy stews, here one dines primarily on salads and dry dishes: along with noodles and a few grilled items, there are 8 types of refreshing papaya salads, and as many “larbs”— a spicy and happily tart salad of cilantro, meats, scallions, shallots, mint and lime dressing (my favorite is the crispy pork; in fact, pork stars in a lot of the best dishes here). While not fancy, Larb Ubol is quite cheery, festooned in bright plaids, with wall full of colorful umbrellas at the back, the kind of home-made décor that shows someone cares (the friendly service telegraphs the same message).
- Pauline Frommer