Pad See Ew Fight: Sanamluang Vs. Pa-Ord
After last week's masochistic adventures in Korean Bolognese, we figured we deserved some slightly better noodles this week. So we decided to turn our attentions toward Thai Town, and to take a look at pad see ew -- or as most people in the U.S. call it, "those Thai noodles that aren't pad Thai." Pad see ew is, at its core, a stir-fried dish of wide, flat noodles, with dark soy sauce, egg, some sort of animal protein, sugar, and Chinese broccoli. To find two different versions for today's food fight, we went to two acclaimed noodle specialists, Sanamluang and Pa-Ord Noodle.
We began at Sanamluang, that bare strip-mall restaurant which closes at four o'clock in the morning, then re-opens again at ten (we have eaten there at both of those times). Their pad see ew came out steaming-hot, its floppy noodles a glazed, glossy, brown. The noodles were a bit sweet, and had that soft, glutinous texture that, on occasion, is deeply satisfying. The broccoli was crisp, and the egg soft, but the most pleasurable part was, of all things, the chicken. Those small bits of tender, dark meat chicken were moist, salty, and surprisingly addictive. But on a whole, and as the lone dish at the table, the pad see ew did get a bit tiresome. The monotonous sweetness and dark flavors, though, did get a considerable pick-up when augmented with the bright red chili sauce, giving some much appreciated balance.
Next was Pa-Ord, the latest noodle shop from Lawan Bhanduram (who previously owned Ord Noodle, before selling it off). The noodles arrived, and to be honest, didn't seem all that different. Like at Sanamluang, they were sweet, they had very dark flavors, had a similar texture, contained near-identical ingredients, and were helped greatly by the addition of some spice and acidity. The first advantage went to Sanamluang, as Pa-Ord's chicken and egg -- while perfectly good -- were not as tender as its competitor's. But eventually, Pa-Ord's subtlety began to come into focus. They weren't as sweet, the flavors were less blunt, and ultimately, they were more enjoyable over the long haul.
The winner, and the one we would rather return to, was Pa-Ord's. But the clearest discovery from this week's food fight was that pad see ew, really, should be an accompaniment, and not a meal unto itself. Maybe some people crave a big plate of sweet, squishy noodles, but for us, a small serving, resting next to some other Thai specialties, sounds about right.