Restaurant review: Soothr in the East Village
It was a sweltering August afternoon when I first arrived in Soothr, and I wish I had visited several months earlier. Thai noodle soups are the restaurant’s specialty, and while summers in New York City aren’t kind to anyone, they’re especially harsh if you like noodle soups. When the city boils in ’90s temperatures, the thought of a bowl of boiling soup triggers an internal battle of anticipation and fear that can make you feel like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange” after it’s repackaged.
Of course, summers in Thailand aren’t a picnic, either. The country has an ingeniously simple solution to the hot soup problem in August: pour the broth into a separate bowl, where it can cool while you eat everything else. This style is called, oxymoronically, dry noodle soup. It features prominently on Soothr’s menu, taking the fear out of my first bowl of soup that afternoon and helping me come back for several more meals.
The dry noodle soup I ate was a variation of Tom Yum. Sour and deeply aromatic, shrimp tom yum is a fairly consistent on-the-go staple across the United States. Thailand, however, offers dozens of variations on the theme, including one from central Sukothai province that incorporates salted pink commas of dried shrimp. This is Soothr’s version.
You can have it as a regular ‘wet’ soup, of course, in which case the rice noodles, sliced roast pork and pieces of fish cakes will be almost submerged in a tangy, overflowing lime pork broth. lemongrass and lime makrut leaf. If you get it as a dry soup, however, the citrus juice and a paste of herbs make a powerful sauce for the noodles. When the broth, served in a mug on the side, is cool enough to drink, it turns out to be rich in pork flavor and simple to use with lime or other seasonings. Alternating tangy and tangy noodle bites with sips of hot broth is a fascinating experience in any weather.
Soothr (pronounced sood; it rhymes with humor, sort of) opened in the summer of 2020, and for several months he got along only with take-out and outdoor tables. By the time I arrived a year later the dining room was in full swing. In fact, with the exception of a brief 4-5 p.m. break while employees catch their breath, it gets crowded pretty much any time of the day, as does the back patio and sprawl. two roofs at the front on East 13th Street.
The interior manages a neat combination of modern New York industrial elements (exposed rafters and ductwork, a steel accordion door between the tables) with traces of an earlier era (whorls of neon, a rotating payphone). The jade gray walls have a soft sheen, like glazed pottery. The effect is suggestive and allusive; it is as if you have been transported to a place and a time that you cannot quite identify.
You might feel the same about the plasticized, placemat-sized cocktail menu, each named after a gemstone. At first glance, it appears to have been salvaged from the sort of Sino-Polynesian restaurants found on the outskirts of many American cities in the 1960s and 1970s, under names like the Double Dragon Inn. When you take a closer look, you see tamarind syrup, elderberry liqueur, and other ingredients that betray the hand of a contemporary Manhattan bartender. (This hand belongs to Supatta Banklouy, one of the owners.)
Soothr was first conceived as a simple store selling a few varieties of Thai noodles, said Chidensee Watthanawongwat, another partner. The third owner, Kittiya Mokkarat, grew up with Mme Banklouy in Sukothai and wanted to serve tom yum as they learned to eat it at home. Mr Watthanawongwat, for his part, had a recipe for meatballs borrowed from the family-owned sausage-making business in northeastern Thailand.
After this clean concept was handed over to a chef, Nate Lingwan, the menu began to expand. Ms Lingwan, who cooked at Fish Cheeks in NoHo and Sailors Thai in Sydney, Australia, now chairs a three-page menu, largely devoted to things other than noodles.
Its steamed jeeb balls are exceptionally thin, the shumai wrappers stuffed with a crispy pork and shrimp filling with water chestnuts. The chicken, fried in the light and irresistible Hat Yai town style, tastes of white pepper and copious amounts of garlic.
Ms. Lingwan builds her beef salad, or yum nuer, around remarkably tasty braised beef; it’s not as loaded with fresh chili peppers as other versions, but its use of inshell cherries for their tangy load is inspired.
The pork ribs in a main dish called si-krong pad ped are braised for tenderness, deep-fried for crunch, and tossed in a steaming red chili paste for flavor.
Koong karee, or shrimp curry, can be found along Yaowarat Road, the central artery of Bangkok’s Chinese community. A seductive ooze of creamy yellow curry is further thickened by incorporating eggs, like in egg soup. The dish, which infuses Thai flavors into old-school Chinese cuisine, is more than the sum of its parts.
No matter how far you follow the back roads and lanes on Soothr’s menu, you will likely be brought back to noodles.
There’s translucent rice vermicelli in a rich beef broth, enlivened by a bunch of grated basil and fortified with chunks of braised beef with meatballs made in Watthanawongwat style.
It’s rice vermicelli again in nam tok, the creamy, spicy soup thickened with pork blood. Once little more than a rumor in New York City, blood soups are now easier to find, much to the delight of those who enjoy how their almost velvety texture soothes loud spices.
There are wide, flat egg noodles with pink ovals with crisp edges of roast duck and gai lan steamed in a puddle of thick, dark soy sauce; it’s somewhere between a dry soup and a soup full of soup.
But summer isn’t quite over yet and I still feel the appeal of real dry soups like ba mii pu. According to the restaurant, this is another dish that owes a debt to Chinese cuisine; the egg noodles are topped with roast pork and moistened with dark soy, sticky and thick. The name means crab noodles, however, and a bunch of really good crab is the heart of the dish, and although I’m still not quite sure what makes the combination of crab meat with roast pork and black soy so good. , I can always come back for another bowl when the weather gets colder.