In an era when the names of new restaurants trend strongly toward neutral, numerical titles which serve mainly as useful mnemonics for an address (e.g. "432 Grille") or serious, suggestive single word-poems ("Radish"), we had to smile at the rhyming whimsy of Curry on Murray.
Ultimately, though, we take our curry pretty seriously, and so does Curry on Murray. The restaurant has made the most of the space, whose large, L-shaped configuration has made it difficult for previous tenants to create an inviting ambience. Curry on Murray solved the problem by creating a vestibule, which serves as a waiting area for takeout customers while dividing the space into two dining rooms: a brighter one behind the storefront windows and a cozier one farther back. Terra-cotta walls set off the spare decor, consisting of a few vaguely Thai-esque botanical prints and some large photos of running water.
The evocation of Thailand answered a question left unaddressed by the name: Curry on Murray is neither a South Asian restaurant nor some sort of pan-curry exploration. The menu is fairly standard Thai, likely to feature your favorites but offering few surprises.
One new-to-us item was an appetizer called moo dad deaw, a fantastically simple dish that banked on pork's ability to stay moist despite a crisp fry. No breading coated the fingers of rich, succulent meat, and no grease either; the exterior had been seared into a firm, dry, flavorful seal for the moist juices within. It was served with an addictive, spicy jaew sauce that suggested Sriracha thinned with vinegar.
Satay featured equally excellent dark-meat chicken, marinated with yellow curry and nicely grilled. The accompanying peanut sauce was putty-thick, studded with chopped peanut and darkened with palm sugar.
A different peanut sauce — thinner, smoother, tangier and spicier — came with the fresh rolls. Together with the shrimp in the rolls, we found the effect too sweet-on-sweet. The rolls themselves featured a pleasing balance of herbs, vermicelli, carrot shreds and shrimp, though the wrapper could have been more tender.
Curry's version of our most beloved Thai appetizer, larb salad, had a dressing perfectly balanced between sweet, tart and sour, and offered a good mix of shallot, scallion and aromatic herbs tossed with the ground pork. We liked the presentation of the meat alongside the bright, juicy lettuce, because it didn't wilt all at once and we had some control over the meat-to-green ratio. Also, while we have had some very spicy larb salads, this one was agreeably mild.
Which brings us to a note about spice: Curry on Murray eschews the standard number system for a verbal scale ranging from "no spice" to "very spicy." On 1-10 scales we tend to hover in the lower middle, knowing that the upper registers are usually pretty hardcore. Here, we didn't venture to try anything "very spicy", but we did order a couple of items "spicy," and found them on a par with the 4s and 5s we are accustomed to ordering.
For this reason, Angelique's pumpkin curry "medium spicy" was on the mild side for her taste, but it still proved to be the hit of the meal. The sauce was velvety, rich and intensely flavorful; if the pumpkin-to-tofu ratio was skewed a little too far toward bean curd, the deep complexity of the sauce kept every bite satisfying.
Jason's panang curry with beef was nearly as good, attractively presented with a drizzle of coconut milk and a ring of brilliant-green broccoli florets edging the bowl. Unfortunately, those lovely florets had merely been steamed, not cooked in the sauce, so that they stood apart rather than adding to the flavor profile. Pad see ew, a classic street noodle dish, suffered from the same issue, but with even less sauce available to coat the broccoli. Its broad noodles were fried in a simple, soy-based sauce that got absorbed and tied everything together — in this case literally, as the noodles and meat were almost knotted together.
Finally, pad Thai got a lot right: slightly chewy noodles, plenty of bean sprouts and a sauce that infused the ingredients rather than pooling on the plate. But it was a bit too demure for our tastes, lacking the unique, wonderfully tangy sweetness of tamarind and sour bite of lime that, to us at least, define great pad Thai.
As the third Thai restaurant in Squirrel Hill, Curry on Murray needs to define its niche. With a distinctly less formal ambience than its peers paired with good food and excellent service, it might find a sweet spot with those who want curry ... in a hurry.