In this solo dining adventure, Kate eats her way through the many dishes at Pukk, a vegetarian Thai restaurant in the East Village.
Pukk isn’t the place you go when you want to be dazzled. It’s not a place to go on a romantic special occasion date. It isn’t even the place you go when you want to be super healthy or eat exceptionally “clean” (although you can navigate your way around the menu to make it fairly so). No.
Pukk is the place where you go when you want food that tastes really really good for really damn cheap. It’s a place you go when you want to leave satisfied and enjoy each bite along the way, without taking it all too seriously. A place to leave your inner critic at the door so as not to worry that the dipping sauce for the spring rolls might be a bit cloying (food snob words like “cloying” must be left at the door upon entering, actually). And if in fact you do notice any overt sweetness in the Spring Roll dipping sauce, you may have to dip again, just to make sure. Because admit it, it’s gooood.
But more than anything, Pukk is the place you go where you must start with the Curry Thai Pancake (if I hear you go and did not get the Curry Thai Pancake, I will be angry, it’s $4 for crying out loud). I went with a group of hard core Midwestern carnivores (BF’s lovely family) and insisted that they start with the pancake. They weren’t into the idea, but I persevered; I insisted. They were impressed. The began to look at me, the poor, deprived vegetarian with just a bit more respect. Or maybe that was just my imagination, but they ate them all up and swooned anyway.
Unlike some of the higher end vegetarian places, Pukk is cheap. Have I made that clear enough yet? It’s cheap. The generously portioned entrees range from $7-$8– yes, you read that correctly, and the appetizers are around $4.
Pukk is completely vegetarian and offers a variety of “mock meats.” Most entrees (both noodle and rice dishes) offer a “choice of protein”– mock chicken, mock duck, tofu or vegetables. So it is also possible (if one is frightened of fake meat, as BF’s brother and I both tend to be), to not have a single bite of fake chicken, fake duck, or even tofu if you’re (not) so inclined. Some entrees, such as Spicy Tamarind Tofu (under seasoned but easily remedied with a sprinkle of salt and otherwise really good), and the Prik King Duck (I’ve never had it, there’s just something about the name that makes me smile, wonder why), simply come with the protein mentioned and your choice of white or brown rice.
In fact, one of my favorite dishes is the Thai Suki with vegetables (although it’s also wonderful with tofu). Big pieces of a variety of veggies that work as nice vehicles to wrap around the impossibly thin strands of noodles. I also like the Pad Thai (I’m a noodle girl), either with veggies or tofu. The time I got it with tofu it was cooked lightly, its soft texture soaking up the peanuty goodness of the well sauced noodles.
More adventuresome than myself, BF had the Yellow Curry Fried Rice with mock duck. It was his first fake duck experience and he liked it. Although it wasn’t the best fried rice I’ve ever had (Gary’s wins that award), the little nuggets of fake meat were surprisingly tasty. Sort of fried and slightly chewy. They tasted nothing like my memory of duck, and I think it’s better that way.
. . . Before you dive into entrees, make sure and start with a couple of appetizers to share. Get at least one per person. I say this because they’re small, tasty, fun and cheap. The Mushroom Puffs feature fried pockets of dough filled with well seasoned mushrooms. Dip them in the sweet chutney that comes with, and enjoy. The Spring Rolls (which I often avoid for their heaviness) are small enough to not spoil your meal. Hot little rolls of fun. And the Thai Curry Pancake, a thin little wisp of an appetizer, which you dip into the warm coconut curry sauce and let melt in your mouth, will make you happier than $4 has ever made you. Spoon the cute little floating balls of fried tofu onto your wedge of pancake for an extra treat.
The decor manages to be both cheesily futuristic while also slightly tattered.
The service is usually very efficient although I’ve been there on nights when I had to be a little more assertive about getting the server’s attention.
There are a few decent beers (all on the light side), some serviceable wines (‘servicable?’ jeez, who do I think I am Eric Asimov? I just mean the white wine doesn’t suck with the Pad Thai), and some hot and a (very tasty) cold sake on the drink menu. They’re all crazy affordable.
If you’re a vegetarian, or you’re poor, or both, or neither but you happen to be in the East Village, go to Pukk. It’s really good.