Somtum Der – Great New Isaan Style Thai, But Hold The Somtum

Somtum Der is one of the latest additions to NY’s explosion in Isaan style Thai food with restaurants like Zabb Elee, Larb Ubol etc.  It’s kind of a weird because it’s a food that most NYers had no idea what it was until the last few years and then it just exploded. If you had asked me I wouldn’t have thought it would’ve caught on given its pretty spicy food which generally doesn’t work well against an American palate.  However, luckily I would’ve been dead wrong and now we have all this delicious food available.

Isaan is an area in northeast Thailand and Somtum Der is actually the NY branch of a Bangkok based restaurant, which is sort of funny because it’s a transplant of a transplant.   Isaan food is quite a bit different than the southern curries that most Americans associate with Thai food.  Instead it has a lot of salad type of dishes and various things like sausages, grilled meats etc.

The inside of the restaurant is dimly lit and fairly nice with all wood interior and long wooden tables. There is also a station with all their ingredients laid out and a guy who is mashing them to make various dishes such as their somtum.  The menu is helpful with lots of pictures and descriptions.  The wait staff is generally pretty friendly although I’ve noticed that when it gets busy they get overwhelmed and the service can be disjointed at times like that.

Tum Thai Kai Kem

I’m going to start with the disappointing stuff here and the somtum dishes despite being the restaurant’s namesake fall into this category.  This is spicy papaya salad with salted egg.  The flavors fell pretty flat here; the normal slightly sweet, sour and spicy flavors all tasted a bit muted and I thought the salted egg would add another dimension, but it didn’t really do much for the dish.  It was ok, but not something I would order again.  6.75/10

Tum Kor Moo Yang

This is spicy Papaya Salad mixed with grilled pork neck meat.  This was better than the tum thai kai kem, but still wasn’t that great.  The flavors were a bit better and the grilled pork neck meat was decent, but again really nothing special.  7.25/10

Larb Moo

This is spicy minced pork salad with green vegetables and chilis.  This was kind of bland, it wasn’t spicy enough and just generally wasn’t that flavorful.  6.5/10

Larb Ped

This is spicy minced duck salad with green vegetables and chilis.  This was definitely better than the larb moo although it was just alright on an absolute basis; for some reason they made it spicier and also a bit more flavorful, which helped the dish.  7.25/10

Moo Rong Hai Der + Khao Ji

Now that we’ve gotten through the duds, let’s get to the stars.  The pork is grilled with a thick layer of this spiced dry rub that is really delicious; it’s spicy, salty and has a semi-smoky flavor that is great.  The sauce it comes with is salty, sour and spicy and compliments the dish nicely.  It also comes with sticky rice that has been grilled that is a bit buttery in flavor and goes really well with it.  8.5/10

Sa Poak Kai Tod Der

This is “Der styled” deep fried chicken thigh, the chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and very tender on the inside and isn’t greasy at all.  The sauce that is comes with is bit spicy, salty and sweet.  This is a good dish.  8.25/10

Moo Ping Kati Sod

This is grilled coconut milk marinated pork skewers.  The pork is tender and a bit of charred on the outside and the coconut milk has a slightly creamy coconut-y flavor.  It’s served with rice noodles and the same sauce as the moo rong hai der.  It’s very good.  8.25/10

Yum Tra Krai Sardine

This is sardines mixed with lemongrass, tomato sauce, herbs and spices in chili dressing.  It’s salty, sour and spicy with big chunks of sardines.  Silverjay on chowhound told me the first time he had it was served differently as the sardines were different and weren’t these big chunks.  It was decent, but I didn’t love it.  7.5/10

Goong Chae Nam Pla

This is prawn sashimi with green chili sauce and is probably my favorite dish here.  The shrimp meat is slightly sweet as prawn sashimi typically is.  The sauce is the spiciest thing I’ve had here and is spicy, sour and salty.  It really compliments the shrimp nicely.  Also if you don’t like really spicy food, I’d suggest taking peppers off as they are what is really spicy about the dish.  8.5/10

Yum Crispy Leaf Fish

This is chunks of crispy leaf fish in a spicy dressing.  This is another one of my favorite dishes here, the chunks of fish are crispy and the dressing is spicy, sweet, salty and sour.  It also has these vegetables which I’m not sure what they are and they look kind of like onion; they are really delicious with a unique flavor which is hard to explain.  I highly recommend trying this dish.  8.5/10

Black Jelly With Fresh Milk

This is chunks of shaved ice with small bits of black herbal jelly and milk that is sweetened and this brown powder on top.  It was alright, but wasn’t really what I was expecting.  7.25/10

Taro In Condense Coconut Milk

This is a warm sweet coconut milk soup with mochi taro balls.  The soup is sweet, salty and creamy and the mochi are very tender and I believe uses real taro as it tastes like taro.  This is really good and I highly recommend getting this.  8.5/10

Overall, I really like this place if you order the right dishes and stay away from their somtum and larb.  This is a great addition to NY’s Thai scene.

85 Ave A
New York, NY 10009
(212) 260-8570

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