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May 2005
Pukk: Experience the Taste of Thai

Restaurant Review by Anne Sullivan

 

Photo by Kevin Lysaght

I am a huge fan of Thai food. So imagine my excitement to learn that an all-vegetarian Thai restaurant just opened in the East Village.

Pukk, the first entirely vegetarian Thai restaurant in the city, opened in January 2005. Owned by the creators of the popular NYC restaurants Thai Highline (in the West Village) and Peep (in Soho), Pukk is the debut restaurant of chef Thavatchai Waraloardgoson. Leaving behind the traditional fish sauce and meat stock, as well as typical décor and music, Pukk takes a modern approach to traditional Thai dishes, and its sleek and stylish interior is as fresh as its menu.

With a menu offering soy mock-meats and three types of tofu, Pukk is considerate of vegans, right down to the soymilk served in the Thai iced coffee and tea (and no charge for extra soymilk—score!). Vegans should make note that some of the noodle dishes can have egg in them, so be sure to request that they leave the egg out.

There is much to rave about Pukk with its exceptional and creative dishes and quick and attentive service. Highlights include appetizers such as Curry Thai Pancake, featuring soft and flaky crepe-like pancakes with a smooth flavor accompanied by a spicy curry dipping sauce; Spinach Toast, a crispy fritter stuffed with spinach and served in a pool of sweet chili sauce; and Stuffed Tofu, two pieces of some of the best tofu I’ve ever tasted filled with cucumber, onion and carrot and served with a sweet peanut sauce. The Spring Roll—that old stand-by of Thai cuisine—is perfectly crisp with a delicate filling and a tasty dipping sauce. The Portabella Skewer is simple but flavorful (though it was surprising to find portabellas rather than the usual Asian varieties of mushroom in this dish). One disappointment was the Oriental Chive Dumpling, which lacked flavor and didn’t come with enough sauce to remedy this.

The soups are made with a clear broth base instead of coconut milk, and as a fan of creamy soups, I deferred to my dining partners, who raved over the Tom Yum with Spicy Tofu, a flavorful soup with mushrooms, scallions and cilantro. As Pukk is the Thai word for vegetable, I was filled with anticipation as I moved on to the salads.

The All Green is one of the best salads I’ve ever had. It’s loaded with fresh vegetables, which are piled high on greens, and topped with a delicious peanut sauce dressing. The mandarin orange slices were an interesting touch that added a sweetness and complimented the dressing. The Thai Papaya salad was decent though the papaya a bit too tough. I’ll definitely give this one another try to see if another batch of papayas help this Thai staple.

The entrée offerings are varied and exciting. The Son In Law Tofu is a delectable soft tofu with a sweet, crispy crust and bathed in sweet and sour tamarind sauce. The Tofu Water Chestnut comes highly recommended, featuring more of the restaurant’s perfectly cooked tofu, crisp water chestnuts, duo nut, scallion, and shitake mushrooms sautéed in a chili tamarind sauce. Pepper Garlic “Chicken” is a nice, standard sautéed soy protein and vegetables stir-fry. Prik King “Duck,” “Duck” Basil, and Perfect Protein “Duck” are all made with shredded wheat gluten that is moist and rich, a great base for the vegetables and sauces that complete the dishes. Triple Crispy is a combination of tofu, string beans and carrots in garlic wine sauce and is absolutely delicious. The tofu is perfectly crispy and the vegetables still crunchy—just the way they should be. Indeed, it is hard to find anything that is over-cooked on Pukk’s menu.

As with standard Thai menus, there are noodle, rice and curry sections in addition to the entrées. The Spicy Corn Noodle is phenomenal: tomato, basil, broccoli and a choice of mock meat or tofu sautéed in a chili sauce. However, the Thai Suki, served over glass noodles, has an overwhelmingly spicy sweet sauce. The curry offerings are basic Thai with a variety of flavors (green, pineapple red, and orange Penang) that aren’t too complex and are a bit more like stews, lacking a really powerful flavor kick. Many of the dishes served at Pukk are spicy, so if this is a problem, make sure to ask the wait-staff to suggest the dishes packing less of a punch.

The dessert selection is not incredibly spectacular but with Vegan Treats cakes served around the corner at Atlas Café on 2nd Avenue, the dessert competition in the neighborhood is admittedly quite fierce.

Pukk’s reputation as the new veg eatery has been spreading like wildfire through word-of-mouth in the veg community. It is also an ideal place to take non-vegetarians who will be so blown away by the intense flavors, they won’t notice the absence of meat. In a recent review, a Time Out New York restaurant critic wrote: “You won’t even miss the meat; even the fake-meat dishes measure up. Plus, nothing’s made with MSG.” Pukk received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Healthy Living NYC as well as positive responses from the users of Citysearch.com and Menupages.com. In fact, Menupages gave it four stars out of five for food, service and atmosphere, and four and a half stars for value. And the prices are truly reasonable: appetizers are between $3-4, soups at $3, salads between $4-5, entrées between $7-9, and desserts at $4. A lunch special (called a lunch set) is offered for $6. Note: the restaurant accepts cash only.

Pukk’s modern 700 square-foot space seats 36. There is sometimes a wait, though rarely a long one, on weekend nights; to avoid a line, show up before eight p.m. Reservations are not accepted but the restaurant does deliver. Beer and wine are served and they are planning to serve champagne in the future. The only thing missing is the fresh, creative and, uh, strong cocktails that are served at the owners’ other Thai restaurants. With community boards clamping down on drinking establishments all over the city, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they aren’t able to expand their existing liquor license. Or perhaps the owners assume vegetarians aren’t big drinkers. (One needs only to attend an animal rights event, however, to know differently!)

So for all-vegetarian Thai food prepared, presented and served exquisitely, head over to Pukk. You will not regret it!

Pukk is located at 75 1st Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets. They are open daily 11:30-3:30 for lunch; Sunday though Thursday 3:30-11pm for dinner; Friday and Saturday 3:30 to Midnight for dinner. For information call (212) 253-2741. Note: cash only.

Anne Sullivan has been contributing to Satya for over six years. She is the Disinformation Company’s marketing and publicity director, a vegan activist, and a health nut.


 


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