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