It was Restaurant Week in Schenectady. As I studied the list of participating establishments, I was dismayed to learn that there were only a couple with which I was unfamiliar.
Pho (pronounced “Fuh”) Queen is located on the corner of a building next to the courthouse downtown. Small, casual and elegant, it has the qualities of a New York City boutique café.
Inside, I was greeted by eight small tables surrounded by comfortable-looking, slightly stuffed beige chairs. Most tables were crowned with a small crystal chandelier.
All tables sported small vases of yellow mums sitting on an attractive Thai silk runner. Lutes offered soft “noodle music” from some hidden corner of the room. A black and white floor of 1-inch tiles and many memories was lined with a border of white rocks.
Owner Gaan suggested we sit where we choose and handed us menus that were divided into categories: Appetizers, Pho Kuai Tiao-Noodle Soup, Rice, Curry, Pho Queen Specialties, Stir-Fried Noodles, Stir-Fried Dishes and Thai Desserts. Meal prices are based on the category, whether the meal is a lunch or dinner, and the type and amount of meat. Calculating prices was made a little more difficult because the takeout menu was out of date and items were listed a dollar or two lower that the current cost.
Service was a little slow. It was Tuesday, and Pho Queen was beginning a new week — Restaurant Week. Besides the regular menu, there were specials to be prepared. We were told they would not be ready until the dinner hour. That was no problem; the entire menu looked exciting to us.
The dozen or so nonalcoholic beverages (guests are welcome to bring their own beer and wine for a $3 surcharge) run around $3 to $5 and feature drinks such as Thai Iced Bubble Tea, Fruit Punch Passion and Mango Pineapple Colada. We ordered the punch and the passion.
Luncheon guest suggested we split an order of steamed dumplings with pork and vegetables (6 for $8). They arrived spread out like a fan surrounding a small bowl of dumpling sauce on a simple square white plate. Each dumpling was dotted with a few bits of crispy garlic. The result was as pleasing to the palate as it was to the eye.
Guest’s Kaeng Phed Ped Yang ($15) consisted of rendered roasted duck with red curry, pineapple, coconut, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, salt, sugar, fish sauce and basil. The neon orange sauce flowed to within an inch of the outer rim of the oval platter and the entire dish was garnished with a structured mound of rice and a large sprig of Thai basil. Ordered “gently spicy,” my guest found the heat to be just adequate to make the inner membranes of his nose tingle.
My Red Curry with Shrimp ($13) fared as well as the dish featuring duck. The large shrimp had been marinated in red curry, basil, bamboo, coconut, bell peppers, salt, fish sauce and sugar. The deep green of the Thai basil was a striking contrast to the orange sauce and white mound of rice. The single red pepper symbol on the menu warned me that the entrée was just this side of dangerous. The succulent shrimp were to behold, savor and order again in the near future.
My sensitive tongue begged for something soothing to drop a few degrees, and the Coconut Thai Custard came to the rescue. Served slightly warm, the barely sweet silky custard slid down my alimentary canal, cooling it all the way. We might have chosen Fresh Mango Sticky Rice or Fried Banana with Honey, but we were delighted with our choice of custard.
Too numerous to describe, the various combinations of meats, vegetables (such as bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots, soybeans, green beans, pineapple, onions, scallions, tomatoes, peanuts, shallots, turnips, coconut and green peas) and spices and herbs (like cilantro, ginger, tamarind, garlic, parsley, sesame seeds, soy sauce, curry powder, fish sauce and chili) combined in various types and amounts to create a battalion of polysyllabic Thai dishes with names as exotic as the ingredients.
While you won’t be able to sample the special dishes designed for Restaurant Week 2019, there is always next year. And you will be able to enjoy everything described here. The most expensive entrees are below $25, and considering the generally fresh unusual ingredients and combinations, it’s a culinary steal!
Owner Gaan had explained the pronunciation of “Pho” to us when we arrived. But what is the meaning of the “Queen,” I asked innocently. “I” am the Queen, she replied with a grin.
Pho Queen Thai Bistro
WHERE: 602 State St., Schenectady, NY 12305; 518-579-0466; www.phoqueenth.com/
WHEN: Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday-Monday closed
HOW MUCH: $45 (for one appetizer, two entrees, two beverages, one dessert) without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Metered street parking, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, takeout, online ordering and delivery, catering.