Dish: Guay Tiow Tom Yum
Place: Pestle Rock, Ballard
In the bowl: From the specials board: “Thin rice noodles with Carlton Farms ground pork, green bean, bean sprout, onion & cilantro, topped w/ground peanuts and rendered pork belly garlic (sic).”
Supporting cast/What to do: This dish is listed as two peppers in spice level (out of a maximum of three). If it’s not enough heat, the server can bring you a trio of pepper preparations to add to the broth, with the dried peppers the strongest.
Noodling around: Pestle Rock serves Isan-style food, meaning the cuisine of the northeastern region of Thailand. As one of the servers said, “This is not Bangkok food.” The menu items are markedly different than what’s served in other Seattle-area Thai restaurants. You’ll find grilled boar collar and Thai sausage, sticky rice, and sauces for dipping, making for a messy affair, though the Pestle Rock people say they believe what the Isan people believe: “More messy means more delicious.”
The Mein Man is about noodles, and as such I wanted to try tom ma-ra, a soup of bitter melon stuffed with ground pork, noodles, garlic, and black pepper that’s slow-cooked with fresh shitake mushrooms. But they were out of it, and a bit surprised that I’d want this soup. (Most Westerners don’t do bitter.) So instead I turned to the tom yum on the specials board.
Prices are a little more expensive at Pestle Rock than at other Thai restaurants, partly because they use high quality ingredients like Carlton Farms pork. The quality comes through in the dish, both in the ground pork scattered throughout the soup, as well as in the crispy pork belly that tops the whole affair. Broth is nicely balanced in that Thai way between sweet, sour, salty, and spicy, though I’d prefer more prominence of sour in this soup. An extra squirt of lime would do the trick. There’s good crunch from the peanuts and the green beans, with plenty of soft rice noodles to slurp up with the broth.
If you want more: I normally recommend a side dish in this section, with a long list of mostly protein-heavy salads serving as eligible candidates. My top choice would be muu nam tok ($12): Durham Ranch wild boar collar marinated and grilled with red onion, chili powder, lime juice, and toasted rice powder.
But if you have stomach space or are part of a group, another entrée might hit the spot. Trout tod yum ($15) is intriguing: sustainable Idaho trout deep-fried and topped with shaved mango, carrot, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and fresh chili. I went back to the specials board to order gai pad prick gang ($15, and more typically spelled prik gaeng), which is Draper Valley chicken thigh with special house-made red chili paste, Thai eggplant, green bean, krachai root, peppercorn, fresh chili, and basil–along with rice. The server said it was truly a “special” and the most authentic dish on offer, full of heat (rated three peppers), though I added more dried pepper as I’m a spice fiend. Krachai, also known as fingerroot or lesser galangal, gingers up the dish, and the grape-like clusters of peppercorns are fun to eat.
Be aware/beware: Kudos to Pestle Rock for breaking out of the pack mentality of Thai restaurants in Seattle! This is a pleasant place to eat, with friendly staff eager to explain the dishes and help diners find something suitable to eat. Offered a choice of rice, the server brought me a small bowl of brown rice to sample. (Per my recent Tabletop Wrestling tangle, I stick with my belief that white rice is better!) Décor is contemporary, with booths that progressively narrow in width an interesting feature. One problem: Pestle Rock’s phone number and email address currently fail, so it’s virtually impossible to contact the restaurant with questions.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on February 7, 2013.