All photos by Scott Lynch
Sep 21, 2023
Untable brings a modern, stellar new twist on Thai to Carroll Gardens
The new Isan Thai eatery has its roots in both Ugly Baby and Somtum Der — and it may be even better than both
Rachanon Kampimarn, who everybody calls Un, has never had any formal training as a chef. Everything he knows about food and cooking he learned on the job–most recently in the kitchen at the Red Hook outpost of Somtum Der — and from his family, back when he was growing up in the Isan region of Thailand.
“That’s the secret part,” he tells Brooklyn Magazine. “My mom, my dad, my grandma — they gave me all their recipes.”
One thing certainly won’t be a secret much longer: Kampimarn’s excellent new restaurant UnTable, which he opened this week in Carroll Gardens with two partners, Meen Srisopa and Jessie Jaisean.
The three friends met at Somtum Der on Van Brunt, Srisopa spent some time at Ugly Baby over on Smith, but late one night last fall, biking home from work — “we’re like bike gangsters,” says Srisopa — they saw a for rent sign at that spot on Henry Street where Mazzola Bakery had made its temporary home. And so this extraordinary “unconventional Thai” place was born.
They call UnTable “unconventional” not because Kampimarn is doing anything experimental, or fusion-y, with his flavors. “The taste is authentic Isan Thai,” he insists. “But the presentation is different. More modern.”
Take Kampimarn’s “UnTable E-San Style” entree, a fat slab of Chilean sea bass surrounded by vibrant steamed vegetables. The fish itself is lovely, topped with charred crunchy stuff, and it all looks innocent and pretty on the plate, but know that this swimmer explodes with rich and complex flavors, thanks in no small part to that pool of fiery tomato sauce. “It comes from my memory as a kid, when my grandma used to make it for me,” Kampimarn said.
More fiery magic can be found in the “WHAT THE HELL!! fried rice,” which comes with a warning of no fewer than 12 little chili peppers on the menu. And even if that makes you wary, you still need to get this dish.
Most of the heat emanates from the chili-studded mound of rice at the center, and once you mix it all up with the piles of sweet pork, and mango, and crunchy green bean bits, and rolled egg, and crisp-fried shallots, and the plump tiger shrimp plopped on top, suddenly there’s a spectacular swirl of textures and colors and, yes, still quite spicy flavors on your plate. Your forehead will sweat. Your nose will run. You will love every second of it.
A good strategy here is to get an order of yum samgler to share, and keep it on the table as long as you can, to take small, palate-cleansing bites as you make your way through the rest of your meal. The acidic, citrusy dish, which Srisopa told me means “three friends” in Thai, is by no means bland — it features Isan’s holy trinity of black pepper, garlic and cilantro — but the bright and juicy fruits have a calming effect on your tongue.
Another big winner at UnTable are the crab croquettes, with their crackling exterior, soft meaty insides, and bundle of fried lemongrass strips on top, all stacked in the puddle of potent tom yum puree. Break off bits of that Kaffir lime leaf with each bite for an added boost.
That’s all we could get through on our first visit, but there’s plenty more to be excited about for the next time around. From the egg noodles with Chiang Mai-style curry to the tom klong consomme with a chunk of sea bass — from the green curry chicken thighs to the beef and/or tofu larb — we will not be getting tired of this place anytime soon. There are even a couple of “kid’s menu” dishes, for more timid tongues.
A full bar is coming soon — or, I should say, the liquor license is coming soon; they already have all the booze, including bottles of rare Thai sugarcane spirit — but until then the Thai iced tea makes a terrific refreshment. Go soon, though. UnTable is going to be an ungettable table very soon.
UnTable is located at 529 Henry Street, between Union and Sackett Streets, and is currently open on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for lunch with a limited menu from noon to 3:30 p.m., and for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m.; and on Friday and Saturday from noon to 3:30, and from 5:00 to 10:30. Closed Wednesdays.
You might also like
CULINARY PARADISE IN A VERTICAL FARM: INTRODUCING FARM.ONE