Restaurant review: Nida’s Thai on High

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From the October 20, 2011 edition

When did the “Occupy Nida’s” movement start? I ask because it seems like the stylish “Thai on High Street” restaurant has been slammed for a while now — like maybe since opening night. That’s understandable, considering Nida’s is unlike any other Thai place in town.

For instance, unlike a local legion of ambiance-challenged Thai eateries, Nida’s is a singularly handsome and “happening” establishment in the heart-of-it-all Short North. Also unlike many other, booze-free Thai restaurants, Nida’s has a full bar and even advertises house special, creative-sounding cocktails.

Yet while I’ve mostly enjoyed Nida’s fresh and competent food, also unlike other, less creature-comforting Thai joints, Nida’s cuisine hasn’t hit me with that “gotta have it” thrill factor. That’s in part changed now with the release of a few exciting menu additions.

What hasn’t changed at Nida’s — fortunately — are all the snazzy touches fans have come to know and love. Specifically, you can still savor your lemongrassy grub here while listening to brainy tunes by Stephin Merritt and Neutral Milk Hotel. And you can continue to relax here under vintage brick walls affixed with tranquility-inducing, arty photographs as you lean back on satiny, kimono-conjuring pillows. But now you can wow your taste buds as well as your eyes and ears with these excellent, brand new Nida’s dishes:

Todd Mun Goong ($8) Todd Mun are those fun, kinda springy-spongy appetizers on every Thai menu out there — but these were extra good ones. Not only are they made with shrimp, but the nugget-y chunks arrived with a wonderfully crispy, ungreasy and golden brown crust.

Yum Ma Muong ($8) Welcome to the famous Thai papaya salad’s lesser known but more elegant sister, Mango. Made with strikingly white, not-quite-ripe strands of mango, this crisp-tastic beauty delivered a startling jolt of spice. But its flavor was far from single-dimensional — there were also blasts of sweetness, citrus, cilantro, scallion, red onion plus hints of fish sauce as well as sunny (and welcome) allusions to the fully ripened eponymous fruit.

Kor Moo Yang ($17) A knockout dish in which pork shoulder sorta mimicked duck meat. Pretty-in-(slightly)-pink slices of tender and juicy, bias-cut piggy were headily redolent of five-spice powder, enticingly salty and sweetly charred along the lovely and crusty edges. On the side was a bowl of potent, fish-hinting dark dipping sauce that was light-bodied, smoky, sweet and fiery with dried and roasty chilis. This terrific dish is best enjoyed with a side order of sticky rice ($2), which arrives in a nifty little straw steamer vessel.

Nam Prik Oong ($17) Kinda like a bowl of southeast Asian chili and yet another Nida’s home run. Warm, ground chicken was awash in a great saucy pool with pleasantly sour, sweet, Worchestershire-y, garlicky, lemongrassy, silky and spicy notes. Blistered cherry tomatoes added depth and played nice with coconut milk and tamarind. On the side were rice plus simply steamed broccoli and carrots, which provided a neat textural intermezzo and helped reset highly aroused taste buds in between exciting bites.

Tom Yum Talay ($18) A delicious and classic Thai fish soup that was a qualified success. I say qualified because though the lemongrass-led flavors of chili, lime and galangal were prudently tuned and delightfully throat tingling, and all the seafood was right-on tender, given its $18 price tag and “serves two” menu come on — I expected more than three or four pieces each of unlarge shrimp, sliced scallop and cuttlefish.

Photos by Jodi Miller