Philadelphia's international menu is as diverse as that of any big city. But Thai food is one of our weakest genres.
That's why I was pleased when one of my longtime favorite local Thai chefs, Nongyao "Moon" Krapugthong, finally reopened her Chabaa Thai Bistro, in a new Main Street location.
This time, the pretty dining room is attached to an adorable prepared-foods market, Binto, specializing in take-out curry meals, fresh banh mi, crispy dumplings, and hard-to-find Thai products.
But it's really Moon's cooking I'm most glad to have back.
This being Manayunk, which caters to tender palates, Chabaa Thai's food is not especially spice-forward so much as it is vividly fresh and carefully prepared.
The pad Thai "flight" of three little dishes topped with different proteins, for example, is a clever wink to indecisive diners like me who no longer have to decide among diver scallops, shrimp, and crispy duck atop their tangy noodles.
The showstopper of our meal, though, was an elegant special featuring grilled lamb chops over Massaman curry. Lamb is right on theme considering Massaman's Muslim roots, and these four plump lollipop chops, a little savory and sweet from their garlic-and-oyster sauce marinade, are a perfect match for this mildest of curries, whose coconut milk broth is vivid with turmeric, galangal, star anise, and peanuts.
The addition of purple sweet potatoes lends both color and extra heartiness to the dish, which comes with jasmine rice.
Next up on the specials list, chef Moon plans to go a little more daring: grilled yellowtail collar with Thai mango salsa and a flicker of chili heat.