Curry Catfish at Reeds
Forget what you think you know about Thai food—it's not all coconut cream and pad thai. Thai food is about complexity. The interplay of flavors—salty, spicy, sweet, sour—push even the simplest street foods (usually sold in plastic bags) to levels you'd never expect. You're drawn to Thai food because of its colorful and exotic looks, but as you dive in, you're taken aback by the unexpected. A sour kick of fish sauce, sickly sweet palm sugar sticking to your teeth, a Thai chili hopping down your throat like a flamethrower. You step back for a moment and think, "Do I like this?" You contemplate this as you polish off the bowl and find you've now got a lifelong love in khao soi or som tum.
There's a distinct food memory in my mind from when I first arrived in Asia: one of the restaurants in my building was a small Thai cafe with good reviews. I went down and ordered a bowl of green curry, but what arrived was thicker than what I knew from home, more gravy than soup. And the smell. Funk. The kind of funk that only comes from fish sauce. You'll know you truly enjoy Southeast Asian food when you look forward to that fish sauce funk (this is also the name of my band).
I went to Reeds American Table for my birthday and, feeling guilty about the amount of meat and cake I'd eaten earlier in the day, decided to try their fried catfish curry. Before I could even see the server about to place the bowl in front of me, I caught a whiff. A whiff of that funk. I didn't expect Matt Daughaday and his team to be making a basic bitch American-style curry, but I had no idea I'd be getting a dish that instantly transported me across the world—I was in the basement of Suntec with my boss, I was at Mai Thai with my girlfriend, I was at the Siam Paragon food court in Bangkok.
One of Matt's cooks, Will Ranney, took his experience from working in Thai restaurants and traveling through Thailand, and he put it on the plate. Galangal and lemongrass give the dish a tropical perfume, and that hint of fish sauce (a little goes a long way) adds the kind of sour, funky note most restaurants are too afraid to put on their menu. Slices of fingerling potatoes, green beans, fresh herbs, and limes finish it off.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the most powerful dishes are the ones that bring you to another time or place. This one does it for me, and I think it's absolutely phenomenal. An instant classic, really. Go try it.