The annual Michelin ratings are always good for a surprise or two. For the most part, I’ve been a supporter, even if I disagreed with some of the choices. What’s the point of ratings that just echo what everyone else has already said? The status quo can survive some shaking-up. Most of the Michelin ratings are defensible; many are more accurate than those the Times critics issue, and then fail to keep up-to-date.
But Rhong-Tiam, awarded a star for the first time in the 2010 Michelin ratings, isn’t just a surprising choice. It is utterly baffling. It’s the first Michelin-starred restaurant I’ve visited, where I could not imagine where the rating came from.
Let us be clear: Rhong-Tiam, which opened in March 2008, is a respectable addition to the Greenwich Village dining scene. Drop by if you’re in the neighborhood; you’ll probably like the place, as we did. But it is not destination cuisine, and it isn’t the best Thai food in New York. The tire men haven’t honored any other Thai restaurants, and they should not have honored Rhong-Tiam.
With that out of the way, understand that the food at Rhong-Tiam is good, and we liked most of what we we ordered.
Duck buns ($7; above left), made with duck confit and hoi-sin sauce, had a nice, bright flavor. Thai Sausages ($6; above right) would have been fine, if they hadn’t been dried out from over-cooking.
Moo-Na-Rok, or Pork on Fire ($13; above left), is the dish the Times loved. The intense heat chili heat catches up with you slowly. By the time you’re finished, your gums are burning, though I am not sure you can detect the pork by that point. Duck Chu Chee ($14; above right) with house-made curry gravy was a more balanced dish: plenty of heat there too, but you could actually taste the duck.
The drinks menu is non-alcoholic, and at first I assumed there was no liquor license. When I asked, the server mentioned two beers and four wines, along the lines of, “Cabernet, Malbec, umm,…hmm, Merlot, and I think Pinot Noir.” That didn’t give us much confidence, so we had a couple of Thai beers at $6 each.
Rhong-Tiam’s reservation system is a bit strange. You fill out a form on their website and receive an email a few minutes later. But the email is not a confirmation, just a promise that they’ll call you later, which they never did. So I called them, though it wouldn’t have mattered. On a Saturday evening, the restaurant was only about half full. Most of the patrons seemed to be the right age to be NYU students. The décor isn’t much more memorable than a dorm room, but the space is quiet and comfortable.
Rhong-Tiam offers an excellent value: our meal was just $64 before tax and tip. You are much better off ignoring its undeserved Michelin rating and appreciating Rhong-Tiam for what it is.
Rhong-Tiam (541 LaGuardia Place between Bleecker & W. 3rd Streets, Greenwich Village)