Durian â˜… â˜… â˜…
147 Chatsworth Ave, Larchmont
(914) 833-1900; durianthai.com
Hours: lunch, Tues to Fri noon-3 pm; dinner, Tues to Sat noon-10 pm, Sun 4-9 pm; brunch Sat noon-3 pm
Appetizers: $5-$12; entreés: $13-$30; desserts: $5-$12
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good
It takes a lot of nerve to name your restaurant Durian. After all, the mere possession of this malodorous, spiny fruit can get you chucked off public transportation in Singapore. This might be a bit of olfactory hysteria. In my opinion, the smell of durian fruit is no more offensive than the bodily funk of a ripe Epoisses cheese. But whatever your degree of aroma-phobia, durian is a transgressive fruit. To invoke its dreaded odor in a restaurant name is a mischievous move—and one that shows this restaurant’s sense of fun.
There is little offensive in Durian’s tiny dining room where golden-hued walls are decorated simply with the occasional (and very beautiful) Thai cooking implement. Durian is quiet, temple-like, and its steeply pitched gables would not look out of place in a Black Forest fairy tale. Happily, Durian’s food is not as sweet as its setting. Look for delicious dishes in which challenging textures and acids are far from the soft, sugary fare that passes for Thai on many suburban streets.
Start with uniquely feather-textured mieng, or “pork threads” tossed with lime, ginger, and fragrant peanuts served in brawny—yet undeniably cute—baby kale leaves. Each miniature wrap is at once leathery, crunchy, and tart; you won’t have figured out your first bite before you tear into your next. Also, don’t miss hoi pao (grilled oysters) served warm with a lime-garlic dipping sauce. The oysters are topped with luxurious herb butter that feels like a bit of an apologetic cuddle after an acidic slap. Mouths awakened, we reached for straw-colored Chang and amber Lao beers. If there ever was a match made in heaven, it’s this food and this beer, though Durian also offers a full bar with a short and basic wine list.
Sausage is a big story at Durian, and it shows up in several dishes. While we’re fans of the sticky rounds of maroon blood sausage that show up in sai krok, it’s impossible to resist that dish’s diagonal slices of sweet and skinny Issan sausage. These sugary, fine-textured links come as close to meat candy as Billionaire’s Bacon. We also loved the sweet sausage in yum khun chieng, where it shone against a backdrop of fragrant, crunchy cucumbers and lime-garlic dressing. Laab gai—its tart, minced-chicken filling made only mildly gritty with ground, roasted rice—is also a fine beginning, though an insipid savory bread pudding, by comparison, was a model of forgettability.
There were some down notes during our meals. Drunken noodles, a Main Street Thai standard, seemed like it was pulling its punches. Its weak fire couldn’t fight oily vegetables and cardboard-like rice noodles, though that’s a minor problem—just ask for the dish to be more heavily spiced. Among standards, a panang tofu offered a better balance. Its mellow coconut milk was ideally counterpointed by chili and fragrant Kaffir lime leaves.
Durian’s menu is long and diverse, so it’s wise to consider more wide-ranging options before you commit to your usual Thai order. On one night, lobster pad cha was a sparkling discovery in which the juicy lobster tail was fragrant with dizzying spices and Kaffir lime leaves. Sadly, its portion felt scant for $30. Its recipient was forced to fill up on its partnering bowl of nutty (and, admittedly, tasty) mixed grain rice. On the same visit, a whale of perfectly executed whole fried snapper for $32 felt ample for all at the table. Its skin was a crackly, caramelized phenomenon of culinary technique that yielded steamy and perfectly cooked morsels of white flesh.
To end, there are deep-fried roti (pan-fried Indian bread) that are just about as sexy as deep-fried desserts get—and, let’s face it, that’s pretty sexy. Also look for mild pandan ice cream and, our personal favorite, the warm kao neow thurien (sweet sticky rice with fresh durian). Here, Durian’s wit is apparent. On the menu, this dish’s description is followed by this sideshow warning: “Due to its pungent odor, please order at your own risk. No refund will be given.” But just as this restaurant’s name is scarier than its bite, so is this dessert’s preamble. The domed dish, presented with formality, yielded fruit that was rich, yet slightly acidic, falling somewhere on the flavor spectrum between unripe pineapple and Camembert. Like the fruit’s eponymous restaurant, it was just about as pleasant as could be.