Thai E-Sarn Cuisine, Arlington MA

Had hopes for this little Arlington spot for lunch last Saturday, but my first trip here at least was not fantastic. Stuck mostly to the Thai menu, beyond some fresh spring rolls, since the s.o. loves those.

Spring rolls were sort of mediocre, the lettuce felt kind of tired. Shrimp was fine, the sauce was OK. Unexciting.

E-Sarn combo comes with Thai style green papaya salad, crispy salted chicken and jasmine rice. Crispy salted chicken was probably the best thing I had today–really well cooked, juicy and salty. I’d sure order this again. The jasmine rice was nice, it comes in a little bamboo basket. Papaya salad on the other hand was warm, limp and kind of tasteless. I think this version was the opposite of how this should taste–no freshness, no crunchiness, no brightness. Just drab papaya and bean sprouts mixed with tasteless tomatoes. It tasted like it had been made the day before.

Duck larb was average, not bad but nothing special. Can’t blame them for the lack of heat since it had to be tamed for the palate of my companion, and so this might well be better at Thai spicy. I still didn’t love the flavor, it was a little muddy in general. But not all that bad, mostly. The larb did come with a soup that was a bit greasy but really delicious, with the chewy duck giblets in it. That was quite good.

Both of these dishes came with a nicely carved, tasteless carrot and a pile of exhausted iceberg lettuce. Note: I am not a snob about iceberg if it can at least deliver some crunch–but this stuff was yellowing at the edges.

Maybe I have caught them on a bad day, but I’m definitely not hurrying back. On the bright side, the room is comfortable and the service was friendly and competent and there is much on the Thai menu that I didn’t try. Perhaps that stuff is better.

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I gave up on them after I got served slimy squid.

the rice was khao niao (sticky rice). it’s meant to be eaten with the som tum and laap

next time try the som tum pu pla ra (papaya salad with salted black crab and fermented fish paste). it’s more flavorful

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ok. this meal was so mediocre that I don’t know if I’ll even go there again, but I tend to trust your judgement–so maybe. the regular papaya salad was pretty bad. but if I try it again I’ll take your recs under advisement, thanks.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold