The popular shrimp red chili at Nicky's Thai Kitchen in Pittsburgh. (Scott Beveridge photo)
By Scott Beveridge
By Scott Beveridge
PITTSBURGH – A location-based social networking app had long ago convinced me that Nicky’s Thai Kitchen is an especially popular place to eat in the Burgh.
Some of the people in my circle of "friends" who use the mobile phone application named foursquare routinely check in there, sending my Droid X an alert upon their arrival to the Asian-style restaurant in Pittsburgh’s North Side.
One particular mysterious individual known by a gourmet-inspired username stops there so often the mobile website has appointed him the unofficial mayor of the place.
So today finally I venture to this kitchen at 856 Western Ave., knowing the food will be worth the drive into a tough neighborhood in competition with trendy preservationists who have fallen for its historic architecture.
Nicky’s is in a century-old redbrick townhouse whose first floor has been remodeled to accommodate a tiny, intimate dining room. Fresh yellow and purple daisies sprout from vases on the two rows of tables set in an off-angle floor plan. The walls are warmly painted in moss green and heavily adorned with Buddha statues.
Surprisingly my waiter is a tall, white American with a buzz cut. I am seated on this rainy, cold October afternoon beside a window overlooking the street, where he recommends a cashew chicken dish. I say I’m in the mood for shrimp.
“The shrimp red chili is one of our best sellers,” he replies.
“I’ll have that,” I say.
“On a scale of one to 10 how spicy do you want that?” the water asks.
I go for a five, preferring food I can taste over the fire sauce, and then select a small house salad rather than a sampling of soup.
The salad is rather small, but attractive with decorative cucumber slices nestled in slivered carrots and red onion, iceberg lettuce and a chunk of tomato all sprinkled with ground peanuts. It is perfectly drenched in a spicy pineapple dressing blended with a hint of garlic and ginger.
About 10 minutes later the entrée is served. I take one look at the mound of brown rice in the bowl and know I will be forming a long relationship with Nicky’s. The rice is so beautifully dark it has a purple cast, and becomes delicious swirled in chili sauce and coupled with forkfuls of stir-fried green and red peppers, onions and fresh mushrooms.
The dish is decorated with a small flower carved from a sliver of carrot and enhanced by just one of the creamy crab Rangoon appetizers that has helped to put this restaurant on the map. That is verified in one of the 26 foursquare tips, all of which are flattering.
“The tofu Phad Thai is to die for! I could eat it bunches,” states a foursquare subscriber named TLD, who uses a pink hydrangea for a profile photo.
I am a bit disappointed, though, to find only four shrimp in the bowl, but hey, it’s a lunchtime serving that costs $11.50.