WHO’S IN CHARGE The name of this 3-month-old restaurant in Malden is a pun, a dish, and a legend.
As explained by Nisachon Thanangthirapong, the owner/operator of Crying Thaiger, “crying tiger” refers to a traditional dish from rural northeastern Thailand, made with tender beef brisket and seasoned with a tangy, aromatic sauce. Folk legends variously attribute the dish’s origin to a woebegone tiger with eyes bigger than its stomach, or to the oil that dripped from grilling brisket like the hot tears of a tiger, or to the eye-watering heat of its sauce.
When Thanangthirapong, a Quincy resident who has worked in the industry, sought to open a family-run restaurant in Malden, she wanted to feature Crying Tiger as a signature dish. But as the only Thai restaurant in Malden (which has a number of fine Asian eateries), she and her husband, Usanus Siritararatn, wanted the public to immediately realize their place was a Thai restaurant.
Hence the name Crying Thaiger. The pun is punctuated by an ingenious logo of a tiger’s face that incorporate a fork and spoon, which are, Thanangthirapong said, typical utensils in rural Thailand. Siritararatn acts as head chef, drawing on traditional recipes from his mother’s kitchen in rural Thailand.
THE LOCALE With spare décor, distressed wood tables, and a mere smattering of Thai artifacts on one wall, the restaurant looks modest to a fault. There are nice touches – water is served in patterned, shiny metal cups imported from Thailand. This style of cup is commonly used in Thailand, rather than glass, because it keeps water cool, something needed in steamy rural areas, Thanangthirapong said. Many dishes are served in painted ceramic bowls, another touch from rural Thailand.
ON THE MENU The choices are quite extensive, with small plates, curries, stir fries, clay pot dishes, soups, salads, and fried rice and noodles. There are number of variations on the “crying tiger” style for salmon, pork, chicken, and vegetables as well as the signature beef.
We started with spring rolls ($5.95) and the Crying Thaiger fried pork dumplings ($6.95), which were dense with an intense meaty flavor.
You can choose from green, yellow, red, or Crying Tiger curry on chicken or tofu ($11.95), or on vegan duck ($12.95), beef ($14.95), salmon and real duck ($16.95).
We sampled the yellow curry with tofu, which was rich and bright with flavor and left our mouths glowing. Curious about that vegan duck, we also sampled a clay pot dish with this form of soy protein ($12.95): baked rice and lots of nice veggies with that tasty meat substitute made this a hearty entrée.
The chicken pad Thai was pleasant; a good option for those less daring.
The hit of the night was the Crying Salmon ($15.95), which came out so sizzling hot it sounded like a miniature rainstorm. It was accompanied by a small dish of Thai Jaew sauce, made with dried chili, tamarind juice, shallots, and cilantro. This sauce is, so to speak, the eye of the tiger. It counteracted the slightly dry salmon and kicked our taste buds with sharpness and heat.
We later tried the signature Crying Tiger entree with tender slices of seasoned beef, nicely crisped vegetables, and that tangy Jaew sauce ($13.95). The only real misstep of the meal was the shrimp pancakes ($8.95), which came out overly fried and far too crisp, bearing scant resemblance to the photo on the menu.
For dessert, we had the kanom tuay or Thai coconut custard (six for $7.95), which split our party. Half loved the creamy topping over a sweetened gelatinous rice flour, others found the combination too unusual.
Crying Thaiger, 114 Ferry St., Malden. 781-480-1243, www.cryingthaigerma.com .
Stephanie Schorow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .