THAI ME UP | Dining Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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THAI ME UP

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The menu front says, "Thai Me Up"; the subtitle reads, "You're bound to like it." Obviously, the response is "Why knot?" Fortunately the bondage theme and the groan-worthy puns don't extend to the restaurant or the service. The mismatched seats are comfortable, the orange and red walls are free of restraints, and the staff members are solicitous and never dominating.

Thai Me Up is a little nook of a restaurant -- just seven small tables -- but with wide windows that open onto Carson Street, it doesn't feel cramped at all. If it hadn't been about 10 degrees out that night, there'd have been some worthy people-watching out on the street.

The appetizer menu has typical offerings such as spring rolls, wontons, steamed dumplings and fried tofu. Undoubtedly, deep-frying tofu negates much of what makes it a healthy choice, but fried tofu is so yummy: just a little crisp on the outside, then all spongy, moist and warm on the inside. The fried-tofu appetizer here -- several slabs of tofu cut into smaller pieces -- came with a little bowl of dip, a sweet clear fruit sauce in which chunks of peanuts floated.

My companion opted to nurse his scratchy throat with a time-honored remedy: chicken soup Thai-style, a spicy broth infused with lemongrass, sprinkled with cilantro and loaded with mushrooms and chicken. It was hot and soothing, but had perhaps a touch too much fish sauce, making it too salty for my taste.

For my appetizer I had larb, which is a chicken salad. Ground chicken had been sautéed, then served on a bed of lettuce with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and scallions. My favorite part of this dish is the spicy lime-juice dressing; my second favorite aspect is how the hot and spicy chicken tastes atop the cool lettuce. Thai Me Up offers other salads including shredded carrot and shrimp, Thai mint beef and spicy tofu.

The two-dozen-or-so entrees are split between rice and noodle dishes. With the fried rice and curry dishes, a diner may choose from chicken, beef, pork or tofu. (Shrimp costs $2 more.) Some of the noodle dishes like pad thai are fried, but about half are meal-sized soup entrees. We decided to get a curry with rice and a big bowl of soup.

We'd ordered red curry, but when it arrived it was distinctly yellow. As there was no yellow curry on offer, I wasn't sure if red meant yellow or whether yellow curry was a substitute for this evening. As it is, we like both red and yellow curry, so we went with serendipity. In the sweet, fiery (my companion ordered 8 on the 1-10 heat scale) coconut milk curry were bamboo shoots, baby corn and pork.

Our soup was five-spice beef stew with noodles. Many chunks of soft stewed beef lay in an enormous bowl of broth together with very fine vermicelli rice noodles, bean sprouts, scallions, fresh herbs and toasted chopped garlic. What made the soup extra fragrant was the seasoning: Five-spice powder (a combination of cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, ginger and cloves) packs a wonderful, deep aroma and always seems to transmute warmth.

For dessert we split a bowl of sticky rice and coconut ice cream. The flavor of this was similar to the other popular Thai dessert, sticky rice with coconut milk and custard. There was the same combination of sweet rice, rich dairy and creamy coconut flavor, except the flavors and sensations were shuffled around. The warm rice melted the ice cream, creating the milky coconut sauce. Actually, we've become such adventurous eaters that it didn't even occur to me until later that an ice cream and rice dish sounded like a weird twosome.

With just one person that night serving the diners and the steady stream of take-out orders, the service was a bit haphazard. We each had a mug of tea but there was no spoon to remove the teabag, nor any place to discard it. Our silverware came with our food and, having arrived during crunch time, we never got a little tea candle on our table like some others. Still, I'm sympathetic when one person is covering all bases as fast as one can. In the spirit of lightheartedness, let me suggest that the place was a little Thai-ed up. * * 1/2

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