Written by Laura Baranik
Pad Thai, a noodle dish made with some combination of flat rice noodles, chicken and/or shrimp, scallions, fish sauce, tamarind juice, eggs, and peanuts, is probably Thailand´s most popular dish in the West. It´s easy to like and simple to make – in its native country it´s a common street food.
So why can´t Monsoon just put together a nice plate of classic Pad Thai? Why do they have to get all funky when there´s no funk necessary?Well, maybe it´s because Monsoon´s Pad Thai rings in at 290 CZK with chicken, and 350 CZK with shrimp. That´s a lot of dough for a plate of noodles. So in order to help the customer not feel overcharged, someone´s decided to be crafty and make the Pad Thai not really Pad Thai. That way, no one will be eating the same Pad Thai dish for exorbitant prices at Monsoon that they could get at another restaurant for 140 CZK. Get it?
I get it, and I don´t like it. The rice noodles aren´t the medium-width flat type so essential to a true Pad Thai; instead, they´re tiny strands of mushy vermicelli that clump up and separate from the other ingredients. There´s a generous amount of lime, but not enough sweetness to balance the sour. Eggs and peanuts have been left out altogether. Shame, Monsoon. Shame.
The scolding is all the more deserved because newly-opened Monsoon should really be a much better restaurant. Its kitchen shows hints of greatness – in a potent tom yum soup, for example, or a velvety green tea panna cotta garnished with fresh mango and the lively crunch of passion fruit seeds. The shrimp dishes are also excellent, featuring some of the largest shrimp to be seen in Prague; whether served alongside a crisp, lemongrass-infused Vietnamese salad or twin red pepper and avocado dipping sauces, these scampi are first-rate.
The same can´t be said of the pork belly, which comes on a bed of egg noodles and garnished with hoisin sauce. Pork belly (uncured bacon) has, in the past few years, notably increased its visibility on upper-scale menus in the Western hemisphere. It´s an undeniably fatty but incredibly tender cut of meat that does well in a rich sauce – provided that there´s enough of it, that is. The small smattering of hoisin was far too frugal to match the quantity of pork provided, let alone enough to invigorate a plateful of dry egg noodles. The crispy outer layer that can surround the best-cooked pork bellies was, to my own belly´s chagrin, similarly minimal, if not altogether absent.
As if in tandem with the inconsistency of the cuisine, Monsoon´s service is patchy: it´s brisk and friendly at times, but in other moments can be downright irritating. A prolonged wait for our opening course was made insufferable when a waitress – who appeared to have been assigned the task of serving a single customer, and was attacking her mission with openly flirtatious gusto – served said gentleman his appetizer before we received ours, despite his having arrived a full thirty minutes after we´d sat down. Dessert was also long in coming, and arrived well after we´d finished our coffee.
Monsoon´s interior is inoffensive almost to the point of blandness; the only spot of colour among the grey walls are the psychedelic patterns displayed by a flat-screen TV. It´s comfortable, but a little too dark for my liking. Between the low light, the ethereal music, and the long intermissions between courses, I found myself lulled into a sleepy dullness, half-dreaming about an enormous bowl of delicious Pad Thai. Under the circumstances, it was the best I could do.
V.P. Čkalova 14
Prague 6 – Dejvice
Tel: 222 959 999
Tip: On April 24th, the Czech Parliament will vote on a proposed amendment that seeks to toughen public smoking restrictions throughout the Czech Republic. The additional restrictions would lead to smoking bans in all indoor public spaces, including restaurants. If you would like to sign a petition in support of the amendment, you can do so at www.stopkoureni.cz. On the home page, click on “Připojte se k peticí určené Parlamentu ČR”. Then fill in your name, address and email. You will receive an email with a link to click in order to confirm your signature.