Books should never be judged by their covers and restaurants should never be judged by their facades. The entrance to Tom Yum Goong on Nassau Street is easy to miss and looks much like any small storefront, but there is a jewel box inside. This newest addition to the dining universe in Princeton fills a space that has been under-represented. We’ve had all the deliciously diverse ethnicities to choose from, some in spades, but high-end Thai has been limited. Not any more.
Tom Yum Goong is located next to Whole Earth Foods and there is ample, easy parking. The warm, rosewood tables, with their fresh flowers, are set off by rich red and gold walls that instantly bring to mind the regal silks of Siam. The space is small and, while the tables are a bit close together, the noise level is subdued. My friend and I arrived at 6:30 on a Sunday and had our pick of tables. Fifteen minutes later and that would not have been the case. The small venue fills up quickly and after our first bite, we knew why. In fact, that first bite has already led to a repeat visit with another friend to try more of the menu’s offerings. My second visit was on a Saturday at 5:30 p.m., and we were hardly the first ones there. Again within minutes the place was packed. We heard the host greet several diners with a hearty “Good to see you again!”
It is BYO and on my first visit, we had simple cups of fragrant jasmine tea while we went over the extensive menu. My motto is try something trusted and something new so we opted to start with crab Rangoon ($6.95) and Golden Bags, chubby packets of ground shrimp, water chestnuts, and mushrooms wrapped in tofu skin ($10.95). Both were enough to share, and my friend and I just grinned at each other when we popped them in our mouths. Next was the signature soup that gives the place its name ($6.95). This was not the tear-inducing concoction that intimidates at so many other Thai restaurants but a savory broth loaded with goodies.
The main courses we tried were Pad Thai and Mussamun curry, enough to share but in portions that wouldn’t be wasted. These were not “too hot,” although they can be kicked up a notch on request. I would warn you that a notch to the cook was several notches to me, but nothing that couldn’t be easily tamed by some extra coconut milk. The menu covers the range of noodle and curry dishes, with most offering a choice of seafood, chicken or beef ($12.95 for chicken or beef and $15.95 for seafood).
Duck is featured in the chef’s recommendations as are several dishes of whole fishes. We tried the Hor Mok, steamed salmon with curry, vegetables, and coconut milk served wrapped in banana leaf “cups” ($18.95). Chef’s dishes are between $16.95 and $18.95. There are several choices for the vegetarians in your party, including rice dishes, salads, and curries. Desserts center on sweet sticky rice and custard, some with fruits, and range from $3.50 for deep fried ice cream to $6.95 for sweet mango in season.
The full menu is available for take out and on both occasions, we saw many people swinging by to pick up dinner. The restaurant’s website, TYGThai.com, is quite interesting. Check out the story of the traditional Thai Buddhist blessing that took place in November.
There is no bar so this is, blessedly, not a “see to be seen” mosh pit. It is a cozy place to settle in for a meal in charming surroundings. Dress can be very casual. The space is just a tad too tight to have a secluded romantic dinner but definitely bring your date, bring your boss, bring the kids if they are adventurous enough. You’ll find yourself dining with like-minded folks who appreciate lemongrass and lime.
Tom Yum Goong, 354 Nassau Street, Princeton. 609-921-2003; fax, 609-921-2249. Closed on Monday. Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 12:30 to 11 p.m.