Right now, we’re experiencing some of the most beautiful weather one could ask for, so I ask you all this: Where have you been dining outdoors this season? At home? By the waterside? On the top of a mountain? At an upper Lawrenceville Thai restaurant dominated by its pastoral picture book of a garden?
If you answered the last option, than you have most likely made a recent visit to Pusadee’s Garden, a family owned Thai restaurant boasting an outdoor seating area as beautiful as its food is delicious. Time and time again, talk of Pusadee’s comes back to the garden – how lovely it is, how big, how lush – and it’s true that the restaurant’s major asset lies in its backyard (or, rather, side-yard). That’s not to say it’s not exceptional in other ways, however, especially considering how well it fares against its competition just up the hill in Bloomfield…
But oh, that garden. That garden!
There’s a special feeling when eating amidst such verdant beauty. You’re outside, but you feel tucked away in your own private garden. There are diners all around, yet somehow it feels sublimely intimate. All around you there is distraction – a cluster of interesting flowers, an imposing thrust of green leaves as thick as the napkins on the table, a scattering of herbs all around, and of course, the frame and trellis providing a modest barrier with only the barest of woodwork. It’s rustic, elegant, sophisticated gardening gone just wild enough on the edges to make one feel like you could get lost without the tables to guide your way.
To put it another way, although you’re seconds away from Butler Street, you feel as if you could be dining in a garden in the middle of nowhere. It’s a pastoral entrancement that translates into the meal itself.
More than uplifting the normal dining experience, the garden setting somehow accentuates the flavors of the meal. The psychic effect of so much fresh-grown flora is a heightened concentration on the fresh flavors of the food. When not distracted by the scenery, me and my dining companion, Jackie, focused in on the menu, a straightforward mix of Thai classics, including soups, curries, noodle and rice dishes, and “garden” specialties.
Jackie started off with an order of curry puffs. Squash and sweet potatoes in a fried pastry dumpling. The pastry was perfect, tender and flakey while retaining a structural consistency well-served to the soft filling. The squash and sweet potato filling was also expertly prepared, spiced just enough to accent notes of sweet and savory, but not so much as to eclipse the natural flavors. The cucumber plum sauce served on the side was a fitting counterpart, offering just the right amount of sour to diffuse some of the natural sweetness of the filling.
That same sauce also accompanied the crispy shrimp cakes. The breading was absolutely delicious, delivering a fine crunch with every bite, but the interior was a little disappointing. The shrimp filling had a nice texture but was without much flavor. A tiny bit of extra spice to the filling would have lifted up the entire dish, although liberal doses of the cucumber plum sauce did a lot to help.
I was mildly disappointed with the crispy shrimp cake, but my entrée of green curry with tofu was an absolute success. I am a heat junkie, especially for Thai cuisine, but I am frequently disappointed by how restaurants take it easy even when a “ten” is specified. I was delighted, then, that the dish was the perfect spice level for my hard-to-please heat needs. Equally pleasing were the big chunks of vegetables filling out the dish, including green and red pepper, green beans, zucchini, and, most notably, some of the best prepared eggplant I have ever enjoyed. The tofu lived up to its veggie counterparts, with large, juicy chunks offering a cool, neutral counterpoint to the zest of the curry.
Jackie got a lot of the same mix in her eggplant basil entrée, although if it could be believed, her eggplant was even tastier. The basil sauce proved a nice balance, a little sweet, a little spicy, heavier than the curry, but not syrupy or sticky. It was a perfect match for the juicy vegetables and tofu cubes, but also marvelous by itself atop the white rice. I found myself drawn to it even more than my own dish, sneaking little bites here and there. Come to think of it, those crispy shrimp cakes would have been amazing with the spicy basil sauce.
Complementing the picturesque setting and fantastic meal was the service, friendly and efficient. A big kudos to the staff who manage to service the many tables outside and inside the restaurant with a manner and attentiveness not found in many much smaller restaurants.
Make a visit to Pusadee’s Garden before the season is over. It’s an ideal destination for a night out, a setting that could serve both social and romantic purposes with food that is every bit as notable as its idyllic surroundings.