A few years ago, if you had asked us what our "go to" restaurant was in Hell's Kitchen, it would probably have been Chili Thai. With so many restaurant options in the area, we don't really go anywhere that "regularly" but if there were anywhere, at the time that would have been it. We liked the flavors of the food, we liked the people that worked there, we liked that they were one of the few places that had larb (and that was probably the place where we realized we loved it), and they were reliable and relatively consistent.
At some point things changed. I don't know if there was a change in chef or ownership when they renovated, but we started to not recognize any of the people and, worst of all, the quality of the food declined. It's always sad when a place you love isn't the same anymore. Since then, we have tried it every so often. Our last delivery order wasn't too bad, so this week I decided to pick up one of their lunch specials to test out one of my old favorites.
For $6.90, you get an appetizer (salad, soup, spring rolls or dumplings) and one of the basic entrees. I started with the steamed chicken dumplings:
The dumplings were like formed meatballs inside. They were okay, but nothing special, and certainly not as good as they used to be.
Inside the steamed dumplings
The current dumplings don't have the garlic (now, accompanied with some sad pieces of lettuce) and just don't have the same flavor and appeal as the old ones. Very sad since we loved their kanom jeeb before.
The real test for me was going to be the pad woon sen. I love pad woon sen, a dish consisting of cellophane noodles with chicken (or some other protein) and a variety of vegetables. The thing that makes pad woon sen special is the sauce. I don't know exactly what goes into it but the flavor is unique and I really love it. I used to order the pad woon sen at Chili Thai all the time but it had been years, and I was hoping it would still be the same.
Unfortunately it wasn't. The chicken and vegetables were fine, although a bit bland. The whole dish was fairly subdued, I didn't really taste much of that special and unique flavor in the sauce, and it didn't even have the pepperiness that it used to. I was really disappointed to find that one of the dishes I loved there just isn't the same anymore. Pad woon sen isn't on every Thai menu and it's harder to find a good one than it is to find a good pad thai or pad kee mao.
For comparison, this is what it used to look like.
Even from the picture alone, you can see a huge difference in the color (and it just looks like a better dish). It was like they forgot to mix in the sauce in the current one, which looks kind of like Chinese mei fun since it's so white. Only after I had eaten all the chicken and vegetables and was down to the last cellophane noodles on the bottom of the box did I get a faint hint of that special pad woon sen flavor. It wasn't enough to save it.
Sadly we probably won't be ordering from or going here anymore (unless we hear that something's changed). It really used to be one of our favorite places to go and a reliable spot, and it would be great to hear if it improves. Until then I guess we'll be sticking with some of our other reliable Thai spots in the area.