A reader recently asked if I have ever been to Pimaan Thai, in Emerson, NJ. The answer was "yes," but that it has been some years.
I recall one or two pleasant enough meals at Pimaan in what I have to imagine was the early 00s. One dish in particular stood out: steamed fish with cilantro, lime juice, hot chilis, maybe some garlic, maybe some other stuff. A very simple dish, packing a ton of balanced flavor and texture. Through the years I've made my own version of this dish many times, always with the memory of what we had at Pimaan as the inspiration.
Since I was in the area and that dish was on my mind, I figured I'd stop in for a quick meal.
I started with Tod mun pla (pictured above), which are little fried fish cakes. These were bursting with kaffir lime leaf flavor, and had that slightly moist and spongy texture that I really enjoy. Served with a condiment that seems to be a combination of all of the condiments you'll typically find in Thai restaurants: sweet chili sauce, peanuts, cucumbers, red onion. I have no problem with these fish cakes.
Hoping to find that fish dish that we had enjoyed a decade ago, I skipped over the standard Thai offerings that you see at every, single, Thai restaurant in the country (are we really to believe that the country of Thailand has only the 20 or 30 dishes which make up just about every suburban Thai menu?) and went directly to the fish section. Much to my chagrin I didn't see a description that was reminiscent of that fish dish. So, I picked red snapper pla rad pik (tamarind chili sauce), which looked like it might at least have some spice. It didn't.
The sauce tasted like Mae Ploy Sweet Chili sauce right out of the bottle. The crispy fish didn't stay crispy, what with all of the sauce on top and on the plate. Very little if any spice, very little if any acid, and just way too sweet. Although, I did like the presentation: the fish had no bones, and the two fillets remained attached to the tail, and the thing was deep fried. But the otherwise nicely cooked fish was lost in the sweetness.
It's tough and probably not fair to judge a restaurant on one meal and two dishes (but that won't stop me). Based on this meal I probably wouldn't return. But I may keep an eye out for the fish dish that we had 10 years ago, to see if it makes another appearance on the menu.
Pimaaan : 79 Kinderkamack Rd : Emerson, NJ : 201.967.0440 : BYOB
Oh, and, Pimaan gets a bonus point or two for having PDF menus and quality photography on their website.
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