Every foodie in Bergen County is familiar with the Ridgewood Avenue Restaurant row that offers a plethora of cuisine from every corner of the world. The best part of this seemingly endless strip of remarkable eateries is that most of them are bring your own bottle and for the most part a reservation is usually not needed. The latter is the key to this foodie haven because one could potentially park their car in one of the municipal lots and meander through downtown Ridgewood in search of a restaurant that tickles their fancy. I stumbled upon Malee Fine Thai Cuisine, located at 2 East Ridgewood Avenue, doing just that many years ago and fell in love with their food, hospitality, and overall charm.
Ever since we happened upon Malee Thai all those years ago, whenever anybody suggests we get Thai food, I instantly recommend this establishment. So when our friend Mr. Pythagoras, whom you may remember from my Blue Moon Café review, came to town and requested Thai, I knew just the place to take him.
The first thing to remember is that Malee Thai is a “bring your own bottle” restaurant, so you should stop at a liquor store on your way, or bring one of your favorites from your personal collection. The second thing to keep in mind is that parking can be a bit of a pain in the arse, but have no fear Malee Thai is situated just minutes away from a municipal parking lot that is located just around the corner. If you are parking in any of the lots or on the street in Ridgewood it is imperative that you read the signs regarding the rules and regulations of your parking space, or you will have a great dinner at one the Ridgewood Restaurants and then have no chariot to take you home for a relaxing after dinner cocktail. Once you are packing a bottle or two of the happy juice, and parked LEGALLY, you can make your way to your destination.
As you approach the restaurant you may notice that there is outside seating located on their patio. You may also notice that this beautiful outdoor region is Train Track Adjacent. I am not saying that you should not dine outside, because on occasion I have been known to choose this option, I am merely reminding you that trains are loud and they will be close by when they whiz by your delicious meal. I have seen too many reviews of Malee, that bring up this point and condemn the restaurant for this seemingly obvious point, as if when they sat down outside the restaurant they were oblivious of the giant train station a mere three feet from their table. On this particular occasion, Zoe, Mr. Pythagoras, and I decided that we were in the mood to eat inside due to the noise and the fact that it was at least 215 degrees out.
We visited Malee on a Friday at approximately 8 p.m. and did not have a wait at all for a table for three. As soon as we were seated, we were greeted by our amicable server with a smile and our menus as well as three glasses of water, which on a summer evening is always appreciated. After perusing our menus for a rather long time, due to the large selection of variety Malee offers, we finally made up our minds, and it seemed as soon as we placed our menus on the table our server arrived and was happy to take our order.
Mr. Pythagoras, who is a vegetarian, had an extensive selection to examine before making his decision, which is a welcomed rarity for veg heads like Mr. P. After quite some deliberation, his final verdict was the Vegetable Pad Woon Seng which was described as Bean thread noodles stir-fried with mixed vegetables and egg, for $14. Zoe, whom I was almost sure was going to order her regular, surprised me once again and decided to go with the Pad See Eew which was described as steak stir-fried with thick, flat rice noodles, egg, and broccoli in a sweet brown sauce, for $12.00. As for your fearless blogger, I ordered The Gang Ped Yang, which was described as boneless roast duck simmered in red curry sauce with fresh basil, pineapple, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes, for $19.00. Finally as an appetizer for the table to share we requested the Fried Tofu described as deep-fried, crispy tofu served with a tangy sauce with ground peanuts for only $5.
After sending our order off to the kitchen our server returned with a complimentary basket of Shrimp chips, which can be described as simply the best Styrofoam you will ever eat. Try them and you will understand just how tasty they are. Our server also opened the bottle of wine we brought from our personal stock, I recommend bringing a sweet white wine due to the spice that some Thai dishes deliver. With a glass of wine in our hands and tales dripping from our tongues, we anxiously awaited our first course.
As the plate of fried Tofu arrived at our table, we all peered inquisitively at the plate in front of us. None of us had ever had fried Tofu before, but all agreed that everything tastes better fried, so we each took a triangle of our fried goodness from the plate and dipped a corner in the sauce that was provided. The tofu itself was pretty much what we expected, the fried out coating was crispy and fried to perfection while leaving the inside soft and palatable, yet like all Tofu slightly tasteless and bland. Like Superman swooping in to save Louis Lane, the sauce rescued this dish; it provided a tangy and vivacious flavor that brought this dish from purgatory to heaven.
After we polished off the 6, which by the way is very good portion size for 5-buck fried tofu triangles, we poured ourselves another glass of wine and pontificated until our entrees departed the kitchen and landed on our table. Their arrival caused a pause in conversation due to their brilliant appearance and intoxicating aroma. I should add a small caveat at this point in my review and discuss the heat options that are available at Malee for most of the dishes they offer. If a dish at Malee contains an element that is traditionally spicy they give you the option of mild, medium, hot or very hot. Believe me, when dealing with ethnic food, one must never be a hero. Unless you have climbed the ladder of spice at any particular restaurant, I recommend taking some caution when ordering hot or very hot from any Thai restaurant. The chefs at these restaurants have a very different idea of what spicy is than their Americans counterpart, so just because you can rock a five alarm chili means absolutely nothing. To be completely honest the “very hot” they serve us, from what I have been told is really their medium. Precede with caution my fellow adventurous foodies, for the hottest I have been able to enjoy is Hot which is what I ordered on this occasion.
The food at Malee Thai is always so fresh and succulent that I am honestly never disappointed in any dish I order, but this was the first time I ordered a duck dish, and I was extremely satisfied. The skin was crisp and the meat was juicy and tender. As with a lot of Indian or Thai plates, my dish came with a side of rice that you place on a plate as a bed for the entrée to be placed on. The combination of the rice, the broth, and the duck concoction was tremendous. The heat of the broth was expertly countered by the sweet pineapple and the rice, creating a flawless balanced package on every forkful.
Zoe and Mr. Pythagoras both had noodle dishes that not only looked spectacular but seemed to offer quite a large portion size for their price. They both must have been impressed by them as well, because by the end of our meal neither of them had any food left on their plates. Zoe commented that she was full half way through but just could not stop eating because of its phenomenal taste.
Malee Thai offers a wide variety of dishes for foodies to experiment with but I do suggest that anyone that is visiting Malee for the first time try the Pad Thai. Pad Thai is the most commonly eaten Thai meal in the United States, and sadly most people have never had a truly great Pad Thai dish. I have eaten at quite a few Thai spots in my day, and believe me when I say that Malee Thai has the best Pad Thai that I have eaten in the Tri-State area.
When the ambiance of Malee is combined with the food and the staff this restaurant just can’t be beat, and the fact that it is around the corner is a welcomed bonus for any family-bound foodies. To top it off, this establishment allows you to bring your own bottle of wine which can save you quite a bit of money. I love eating at Malee, and I think if you give it a whirl, you will too.
Taste: 4 out of 5
Presentation: 4 out of 5
Value: 3 out of 5
Overall: 4 out of 5