PERFECTION: Rod Dee may be home to “the original spicy crispy chicken recipe,” but the real winner here is the impeccable “Spicy Crispy Squid.”
Alas, fire has taken out Rod Dee II, in the Fenway. We pause here to mourn that restaurant, along with Greek Isles, Thornton's, Umi, the El Pelón Taqueria, and the underrated Sorrento's — all favorite Phoenix lunch spots that were also lost in that awful Peterborough Street blaze. A block of small indie restaurants is one of the greatest things in city living. But let's cater the wake from New Rod Dee, in Brookline. This recently opened location, intended to be the third of a small chain now down to two outlets, is the largest and best of all — the finest disposable-plate dining room in Greater Boston since the original Legal Seafood.
|New Rod Dee | 617.738.1455 | 1671 Beacon Street, Brookline | Open Mon–Thurs, 11 AM–10:30 PM; Fri and Sat, 11 AM–11 PM; and Sun, Noon–11 PM | No Credit Cards | No Liquor | No Valet Parking | Sidewalk-Level Access|
The other Rod Dees, both extant and not, were take-out operations with a few seats. The newest is a take-out operation with 12 tables. It even gestures to the lounge world with a sofa and two chairs. That said, this is a florescent bright room with clashing colors of India — ochre, purple, and crimson over quarry tile — and minimal service. You order up front and fetch your own drinks and utensils. Dishes are brought to your party, and if you're polite, you bus your own table afterward. Although many Bostonians love Thai restaurants that have formal dûcor with Asian food, Rod Dee makes a virtue out of no frills by getting dishes to the customers hot and fresh — a tremendous advantage with deep-frying and stir-fries.
The menu says that Rod Dee is home to "The original spicy crispy chicken recipe." You can try that here either as a $2 add-on to any dish, or with a special spicy rice plate ($8.10). The rice option has two silhouettes next to its name, so it's very hot, mostly due to deadly green peppers. Don't mistake them for the bell variety! All this spice comes with excellent jasmine and the chicken, which has a crunchy breading, like Japanese tonkatsu. Personally, though, I think the real winner in the key of fried is the "Spicy Crispy Squid." It's crisper, more carefully pepper-loaded with a chopped salsa-like mûlange, and the chunks of squid are impeccable.
Outside of rice dishes, there's tod mun ($5.75), fried fish cakes. These are a little rubbery, the better to hold the chopped peanut "dip." Not everyone loves tod mun, but if you do, you get about nine here, so it's a best buy.
Coconut soup with chicken ($3.40) is about double the typical restaurant portion, with a clear coconut sweetness and lots of galangal and lemongrass flavor. There's not so much chicken, but there are tons of fresh, crunchy mushrooms. Tom Yum with shrimp ($3.40) also has two spice silhouettes on the menu and deserves that rating. This dish is always hot and sour, with shrimp or chicken, mushrooms, and the odd cherry tomato, but the plate served here is definitely less sour than hot. The only weak appetizer we hit was Thai spring rolls ($4.75), four crisp cigars with perhaps twice as much wrapper as they needed.
Noodles are a strength at the New Rod Dee. The pad Thai ($7.55) is solid with some sneaky hot pepper. The pad see you ($7.40) are broad noodles like chow foon, with a hint of char from the wok, a slightly sweet overtone of cinnamon, and fried cubes of chicken, pork, or — our choice — tofu.
Curries range from the mild potato-pineapple Massaman curry ($6.90 with pork) up to the coconut-red-curry choo chee, which we had on a fried whole fish ($14.25). The former was deliciously sweet pork and bamboo shoots — a surprisingly good match for a curry named for Muslim traders. The latter was perhaps a tilapia, a fine foil for a rich curry sauce.
Absent a liquor license, canned sodas are an economical one dollar, and fruit juices, such as my guava nectar, a decent $1.75. Thai ice tea ($2.50) is vanilla-flavored with condensed milk. Complementary ice water and hot tea will handle any chili-pepper emergencies that are not solved by a mouthful of plain rice.
One neat plus is really wonderful desserts. Fried bananas with honey ($5.75) is now a clichû, but these struck a rare and subtle balance of sweet, rich, sesame, and banana flavors — we had eight little packets to study the effect. Roti ($5.75) is here a rolled crêpe soaked in cinnamon syrup, sliced into about 10 pieces, and again delectable. The mango with sweet sticky rice ($6.65) arrived and trumped them all, with the ripest mango and most coconut-enriched sticky rice ever.
Service, considering this is a semi-cafeteria-type set-up, was quick where it matters, and fully accurate and pleasant. Tables rapidly turned over during our weeknight visit, so much that the atmosphere in the room kept changing. That's in keeping with the service — and a good thing, too. Many dishes at New Rod Dee would only be diminished by the time expended to make them prettier.