Table for one, please

“Just me,” I said, lifting one finger to the guy behind the counter when he asked how many people I needed a table for. I’m never sure who can hear the muffled voice behind my mask.

About a month ago, I was supposed to be on vacation in Australia for the first time, tagging along on my boyfriend’s trip back home to renew his work visa. As I plopped down alone at a small sidewalk table in SoHo last week, surreptitiously eyeing the tables of twos, threes and even fours around me while I rummaged through my tote for hand sanitizer, I thought about that cancelled trip and my boyfriend almost 10,000 miles away.

So many new normals to get used to.

Thai Diner, from the team behind the recently closed Uncle Boons, a beloved restaurant and a pandemic casualty that actually made me sad, opened just before New York— and really the world— shut down. I’d been excited about eating at the Thai influenced American comfort food diner when I first saw their menu online, already planning how many different things I could try between my boyfriend and me.

All those months after first telling him about it, I finally went, alone one day for lunch in the middle of last week, which I had taken off both to use up some of my vacation days and to reward myself for surviving a move to a new apartment, a hellish August, a global pandemic for six months so far.

With no one to give me a weird face for eating breakfast at 2pm on a Tuesday, I ordered George’s Egg Sandwich, a messy  affair of eggs, cheese, avocado, bok choy, and Thai basil wrapped in crispy roti. I’m not sure who George is, but he has a damn delicious sandwich. Messy sure, with its oozing cheese and bits of scrambled egg falling out between piping hot roti slippery with oil, but very much worth it. All the delicious green in this sandwich, the creamy avocado and dark, leafy bok choy, the kicky, spicy Thai basil, filled it with flavors and textures that set it apart from any breakfast sandwich I’d ever had at a diner before.

While it wasn’t quite the experience I had imagined all those months ago (especially since I didn’t get to split the Thai Tea Babka French Toast with anyone), Thai Diner was just what I needed: different, delicious, and as it so often is with food for me, distracting, transportive, and comforting.

I never thought that with a week off from work the most exotic and adventurous thing I would do was ride the subway into Manhattan to eat a Thai inspired breakfast sandwich, but there I was. I also didn’t think I’d be living in a new apartment with a new roommate instead of my boyfriend, who I wasn’t sure when I’d see again thanks to a global pandemic, but there I also was.

So many new normals to get used to.

When I was done eating, I sat at my table for one, fingers glistening with oil, back of my hands shiny from every time I’d wiped my mouth between bites. I did the quick math in my head, as I so often do throughout the day now, to figure out what 14 hours ahead made it in Australia. Boyfriend would still be sleeping for several more hours so I reached for the hand sanitizer instead, cleaned my greasy hands until I smelled vaguely of cheap grain alcohol, and went on with my day.

Thai Market, daydreamed and real

When my newly married friends Vanessa and Jon recently honeymooned in Thailand, I went along with them. Well, not really, not physically in the third wheel sense (cause how awkward would that be?) but vicariously through the Instagram pictures Vanessa posted daily.

In my Thai reveries I lounge around deserted beaches, play with baby elephants and feel small before giant Buddha statues, just like my married friends did, but mostly in my daydreams, I roam around the food markets, eating all sorts of things. And because it’s a daydream and not real, nothing has a single calorie. (In the beach part of my daydream, I look damn good in my bikini.)

Vanessa’s street food stories, like the ones I read on another favorite blog, The Londoner, left me with not only more wanderlust than ever, but with a ravenous hunger for Thai food. So when I asked a friend for a lunch recommendation on the Upper West Side earlier this week and she suggested a place called Thai Market, it was just what I needed.

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Tom yum goong soup. Emphasis on the yum.

To start, I had the tom yum goong soup, a reddish-brown blend of tangy, zesty lemongrass, tamarind, juicy shrimp, and plump, soft mushrooms.  It was colorful and warming, with just enough spicy heat to give my tongue a tingly little prickle without breaking out into full on nose sweats.

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Pad kee mao… that means give me more, right?

After it, at the server’s suggestion, I ordered the pad kee mao, large, flat rice noodles with tender strips of chicken, Thai basil, chili, tomato and bok choi. It wasn’t crazy hot but this time I definitely had to guzzle cold water throughout eating it. The flavors, like the colors of the different ingredients, were bold and bright, with chunks of bright green peppers, juicy tomatoes and red swirls of chili oil all mixing around in the most delicious way.

The restaurant’s overall look is supposed to transport you to Thailand, with giant photos of markets as a backdrop, along with Thai street signs and large red umbrellas that kind of make you feel like you’re outside. I popped in for lunch, and while I don’t doubt that the food sold by street vendors and at markets is way better and cheaper, Thai Market’s $8 lunch special makes it a pretty good alternative for being on the UWS.

Thai Market on Urbanspoon