Pad Thai or die: Student reviews Berkshires’ best noodles

Three restaurants near the College – Chopsticks, Sushi Thai and Sushi House – offer their own versions of the classic Thai dish. Robert Yang/Executive editor.
Three restaurants near the College – Chopsticks, Sushi Thai and Sushi House – offer their own versions of the classic Thai dish. Robert Yang/Executive editor.

“I’ll have the usual,” I declared confidently for what I thought must have been the 1000th time. “What!? We don’t make that here,” the other end of the phone spat into my ear and my heart. I sat confused and speechless for what seemed like an eternity before I realized that I wasn’t on the phone with the beloved take-out Thai restaurant down the street from my home many miles away from the Purple Valley. I stammered, “Oh, um, uh, I’d like chicken pad Thai please.” And thus it began.

Having developed a deep love of pad Thai at home, the absence of my standby order of the “usual” was undoubtedly one of the toughest transitions to life at the College. Yes, I knew about Sushi Thai, and that Chopsticks also supposedly churned out the classic Thai noodle dish. But I couldn’t subject myself to the all-too-real possibility that these dishes wouldn’t live up to, or perhaps worse, burst my preference for the dish that I had become so fond of over all those years.

Yet months have passed, and the pad Thai-shaped void in my life is is becoming increasingly unbearable. After discovering that a third location, Sushi House in North Adams, serves pad Thai, I knew that I had no choice but to ready my taste buds and put these three pad Thai dishes to the test.

Last Friday, famished after a day of class and practice, I picked up the phone, stumbled over my order, and made the trek around town with the Record’s trusty features editors to obtain a plethora of pad Thai. The smell was intoxicating on the ride home. My heart ached, my taste buds salivated and my mind raced, anxious to dive into these dishes. About to embark on an authentic, taste-testing culinary adventure, I put my blindfold on and readied my senses:

Sushi House

Main St., North Adams.

$

Slightly different than the standard Americanized pad Thai, Sushi House’s rendition of the classic dish easily stood out as the best. Delicate noodles that could stand alone in addition to shockingly tender chicken highlighted this scrumptious pad Thai. What most dishes fail to achieve is the perfect combination of sweet and savory in the sauce in order to avoid the saccharine-induced law of diminishing returns that take-out food seems to inherently possess. This light brown sauce, however, threaded the needle perfectly. Sweet and tangy, it enveloped the noodles and chicken to perfection, clinging to the dish but not drowning it. The crunchy bean sprouts and morsels of chopped peanuts added a welcome texture and crunch that distinguished the dish from its peers. The only negative came in the form of a juiceless lime that accompanied the platter.

Sushi Thai

Spring St., Williamstown

$$

Entering the contest as the favorite, Sushi Thai’s pad Thai disappointed me. The only one of the restaurants to explicitly specialize in Thai cuisine, Sushi Thai’s staple dish was remarkably run-of-the-mill. The noodles, while tasty, were dry, sticky and overcooked – altogether not a very pleasant in-mouth experience. Worse was the chicken: bland and extremely dry. While the Sushi House chicken seemed to be cooked in the same wok as the noodles, the Sushi Thai chicken seemed to be thrown on top of the noodles after the dish had been cooked. That being said, in regard to sheer taste of the noodles, there is little left to desire if one has a haunkering for a standard pad Thai. The noodles are sweet and addictive, despite their shortcomings, and if driving to North Adams is too inconvenient, Sushi Thai can quench some cravings.

Chopsticks

Rt. 2, Williamstown

$

The first thing that struck me about the pad Thai at Chopsticks was that it tasted like you’d imagine pad Thai to taste at Chopsticks. If you’ve eaten at Chopsticks, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, well, it’s definitely not a compliement. Simply, the Chopsticks pad Thai tasted like greasy Chinese food. What should have been thin, chewy rice noodles, seemed like overcooked, out-of-the-box spaghetti. In addition, instead of the familiar tangy sweetness of pad Thai sauce, the Chopsticks sauce tasted more like a creative concoction of oil, MSG and corn syrup. Surprisingly, the chicken was more tender and more flavorful than that of Sushi Thai, but its still one less than impressive quality could hardly salvage this unfortunate dish from sheer disaster. Ordering this meal again would only be forgivable if it followed several scorpion bowls, as that way, it would at least be easy to forget its heinous impersonation as my beloved pad Thai.

While this round of investigation has ended with definitive results – the Sushi House pad Thai pleasantly knocked my socks off, Sushi Thai was underwhelming and Chopsticks was straight appalling – there is still much discovery to be done in the Berkshires, many family favorites and “usuals” to replace, and many new, uncharted frontiers beyond noodles for this gourmet to explore. For now, though, I have no doubt that by the end of my four years here I’ll be dialing up Sushi

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House for the usual.