#37: Tom Yum Gai at Pearl Café

Nov 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm
The tom yum gai soup at Pearl Cafe - Ian Froeb
Ian Froeb
The tom yum gai soup at Pearl Cafe
Pearl Café shares the same owners as Simply Thai, which appeared at #71 on this list with its massaman curry. One of the (very few) unstated rules governing my 100 Favorite Dishes is one dish per restaurant, multiple locations included. But, hey, it's my list. Besides, Pearl Café has not only a different but also a different look and some differences in the menu.

And its tom yum gai is too outstanding to ignore.

It's difficult to know where -- or, to be more precise, with which flavor -- to begin when writing about this soup. The smack and heat of chile is the most obvious spot: the broth has the hue of St. Louis brick, and its burn lingers. Yet there is also its mouth-puckering shot of lime juice and the unique flavor, not quite citrus, not quite herb, of kaffir lime leaves.

Galangal and lemongrass taste like nothing except themselves, bitter and sharp respectively. Even the bits of cilantro and scallion make a definite impact. There is mushroom and chicken, too, though these provide more body and flavor.*

What's most remarkable, though, is how no one flavor dominates. Each yields seamlessly to the next, with the broth acting as a savory, spicy backbeat.

* - You can order tom yum with shrimp instead of chicken, if you like.

Pearl Café
8416 North Lindbergh Boulevard, Florissant
$4.25 (small), $6.25 (large)

I'm counting down -- in no particular order -- 100 of my favorite dishes in St. Louis. Some are well-known, others obscure. Some are expensive, others dirt cheap. All of them, I guarantee, are delicious. Please do not hesitate to share your own favorites via the comments thread.


#38: Cassoulet (and Sweetbreads) at Franco
#39: The "Papasan Roll" at Miso on Meramec
#40: Lasagna at Mama Josephine's

#41: The "Bucktown" Pizza at Pi Pizzeria
#42: Pla song kruang at Basil Spice Thai Cuisine
#43: Chori pollo at Mi Ranchito
#44: Pizza at La Pizza
#45: Fried chicken at Young's Restaurant & Ice Creamery
#46: The Philly Cheesesteak at 9th Street Deli
#47: Smoked chicken wings at Flavors BBQ Sports Bar & Grill
#48: Coffee and a pastry at 222 Artisan Bakery
#49: The torta ahogada at Taqueria Durango
#50: The "Morganford Mediterranean" Sandwich at Local Harvest Café & Catering