Bloggers and foodies alike often talk about the spots that are "authentic" or "the real thing." Nowadays, with millions of brilliant fine dining spots to find on the daily, some just want to chow down on a simple plate of "real" food. People search for these spots in spite of wanting to pay a big price for an overwhelming plate full of multiple proteins, sauces, side dishes and garnishes. As interesting as the titles sound, not every meal needs to be eaten at a "gastro-pub" or a "trendy tapas bar."The search for genuinely cultural spots has expanded and become popularized.
Late last week I was on an overnight trip to New York City with my school newspaper staff. Set loose in Midtown for dinner, we gazed up at all the signs and storefronts, wondering which to pick. Many wanted Thai food--so we of course all pulled out our iPhones simultaneously and Googled the obvious, "Thai Food+ Midtown+ NYC." We sifted through a few Yelp reviews until we found a favorable restaurant, Olieng (at 46th and 10th), one that coincidentally fit my prior descriptions in the form of seeming as authentic as possible.
First, let me establish that Olieng is small. Not like a Chipotle small or a Saladworks small...I'm talking REALLY Small. Olieng is so small it's as if any more than you and a few other people are in it--it might just overheat. Nevertheless, a menu filled with variety, a quick and handy waitstaff, and a small but cutesy New York atmosphere was plenty to get our meal going. If I had one complaint about the atmosphere it would have to have been that the right wall is half mirror covered in messages written by customers. If you look at it it's kind of unpleasant and dizzying, but it didn't get in the way of a nice meal.
Finally--the food. To start, one of us ordered their vegetarian Thai spring rolls. The rolls were nice and crispy, if a little "veggie" for me. As you can see in the picture to the bottom/right, half the roll was loaded with some spinach. Nevertheless, with a hefty dip in the thick, satay-like sauce, the rolls were a nice clean start to the meal. Thai food is kind of the anti-Chinese food when it comes to the density and heaviness of their appetizers. We entered the full meal feeling fresh, light, and held over until our food came.
After our appetizers, our entrees came. While one of us ordered an interesting dish entitled, "Red Curry Chicken," others (including myself) felt that it would be a waste not to try their most traditional dish--pad thai. I got beef and one of my friends, a vegetarian, got tofu. As you can see in the pictures, the dishes looked just as the restaurant itself looked--homely and authentic.
I felt as though I was eating food that people from legitimate Thai backgrounds might actually eat... unlike the fancy, over-presented Thai food available in other places in the city.
-After asking my friend if "medium spicy" was okay for her Red Curry, it was delivered packing quite the punch. Noticeably spicy yet well made and cooked, the Red Curry was a nice looking traditional Thai dish.
-The Pad Thai was above average and well made. Cooked correctly and spiced handily, the Pad Thai got the job done as I thought it would.
So, next time you're in New York City and want something less intense and over-the-top, a traditional Thai meal at Olieng might just hit the spot for you like it did for us.
ALSO: Big thanks to one of my fellow editors of the school newspaper: All these photos are courtesy of the fabulous photographer Efi Narliotis. Her magical work with a camera makes every bite look more and more delicious.