The pleasures of traditional Thai cooking follow a twisting trail through spicy, sweet, fresh, fermented, sharp and creamy-smooth, somehow coming together in harmony. Where, in the midst of all this, might the cravings for a New Orleans seafood platter fit in? The answer at My Thai Cuisine is the center of the table.
That way everybody gets a swipe at the shrimp, the exquisitely crunchy soft-shell crab (crusted with black sesame seeds), the knuckle-sized lumps of crabmeat strewn above and the crawfish tails soaking in a garlicky, mildly pungent sauce, escorted by aromatic jasmine rice and a crinkled sheaf of roti bread.
That’s the banquet-sized entrée called NOLA deluxe, part of a collection of exuberant dishes that recommends this small, homespun West Bank restaurant for a taste of local seafood in the company of jungly Thai sauces, fresh herbs and fiery chiles.
My Thai Cuisine is in a strip mall on the outskirts of Harvey’s suburban commercial stretch, just past the cineplex and the big box retailers. Plain on the outside, the colorful dining room exudes the personal touches of a family-run restaurant.
Krits Saisunee is responsible for the clattering sounds and compelling aromas issuing from the partially open kitchen, while his wife, Terry Cuskelly, works the front of the house. The two are natives of Thailand, and Cuskelly’s family ran a restaurant called Thai Style just around the corner on Lapalco Boulevard before Hurricane Katrina. She and her husband decided to revive the family business and opened My Thai Cuisine late in 2012.
Their menu mixes traditional Thai flavors with a modern foodie interest in cross-cultural combinations. It also shows the local influence of La Thai, the popular Uptown restaurant where Cuskelly worked for a stint. That’s evident in My Thai’s penchant to pile on the lump crabmeat, a component in some of La Thai’s signature dishes. The pecan oyster entrée sounds familiar as well, though My Thai takes the idea in a different direction.
It’s another impressive mountain of food with lots of variety and freshness ringing the central peak of oysters. Thickly crusted with panko and bean-sized bits of pecan, they’re like twice-crispy oyster nuggets. Run them around in the dark, lip-coating chile sauce and intersperse bites with more lump crabmeat and sautéed shrimp, which My Thai tends to add as if they were just another standard part of the stir-fry, along with the carrots, onions and broccoli.
Like just about every other Thai restaurant, My Thai has the standards of pad thai, broad, oily ribbons of drunken noodle and a rainbow of curries in spicy green, milder red and creamier, richer yellow.
The menu goes a little deeper into Thai flavors, however, and one standout example is boat noodles, a traditional dish that’s trending in other cities but one I’ve yet to find anywhere else locally. It’s an entrée-sized soup of bone broth, rice noodles and sliced beef (or sometimes pork) and it strongly resembles Vietnamese pho, though it has a denser mouth feel and beefier flavor.
Like the NOLA deluxe, the pecan oysters go for market prices, which recently was $29. That makes them outliers on a menu that is otherwise mid-range (most specials are $13-$18, the curries and noodle dishes are $8-$15), though it’s worth reiterating that they are both gargantuan. Share one of these with a pair of first courses, and you have a full meal.
Tear open the karee puffs, the Thai equivalent to empanadas, and steaming curried chicken tumbles from the bubbly crusts. Bite into the garlic ribs, and while working on their chewy, almost caramelized texture, you’ll see that their name is no bluff. Order the larb, a salad of ground beef or chicken imbued with toasty, smashed particles of rice, and prepare for an onslaught of chiles, mitigated just a bit by fresh mint and basil between the burn.
At least there is plenty to wash it down. There’s a full bar and a wine list with better bottles than you might expect from a strip mall café. For spice relief, though, the right antidote might be the Thai iced tea, which is thick, murky-orange and tastes sweet and very much like tea under a swirling cloud of cream, or the similar Thai iced coffee with the octane level of an espresso drink.
Roti really gets around this menu. More a savory pastry of buttery layers than bread, it’s a side dish to sop up sauce, an appetizer (with red curry) and even does a turn as dessert. Doused with a syrupy condensed milk concoction, it’s a simple and compellingly delicious finale.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.