- Neighborhood: Northern Liberties
- 812 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA
- Phone: 267-687-1309
- Website | Twitter
- Cuisine: Thai
- Alcohol: BYOB
- Price: $$
- Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Here’s the deal: chef Alex Boonphaya is hosting a 5-course Thai Tapout dinner, and he’s so confident that his dishes are too spicy to endure that he’s buying dinner for anybody who finishes the full five course meal. Winners who “beat the heat” will also receive a complimentary t-shirt.
It’ll work like this. Dinner costs $45, but can be made progressively cheaper by finishing the spicier courses. The first course is the most mild (4/10) and the last is the spiciest (10/10). If you make it through three, you pay $30. If you make it through four, you pay $20. If you attempt the fifth, you pay $10, and it’s free if you finish every last bite. Be warned: the fifth course features a ghost pepper concentrate–which is just crazy because concentrating the world’s hottest pepper into one fiery paste sounds just ridiculously dangerous.
But also kind of cool.
Anyway, keep reading, you masochists.
In Philly, Southeast Asian flavors are the gift that keeps on giving. In Point Breeze, South Philly and Chinatown, along Washington Avenue and even out in the ’burbs, there are enclaves whose composition and abstract representation of geopolitical borders are constantly shifting and changing. This means Thai and Laotian food on traditionally Vietnamese-heavy blocks, and awe-inspiring Malaysian food in Chinatown. It also means a deepening and broadening of available flavors, so if you’re looking to explore the subtle differences between Malaysian and Indonesian food, Vietnamese that goes beyond a bowl of pho, or Thai more complicated (and delicious) than a simple plate of pad Thai, there are many options.
The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market is a lonely place at midnight. And that’s just how Circles Thai chef/owner Alex Boonphaya likes it. The refrigerated temperature doesn’t phase him despite his short-sleeved t-shirt, and on this past Wednesday morning, he quietly looks over boxes full of colorful fruits and vegetables imported from around the world–trying to decide which will make the cut for his dinner at the James Beard House in Manhattan tonight.
To call Boonphaya unassuming is to speak a significant understatement. Though he continues to win “Best of Philly” awards and survived a year-long application process to cook at the famed Beard House, his manner is shy and his ego is most assuredly in check. As he ambles through the Essington Avenue warehouse, glancing frequently at a notebook where he’s written a meticulous shopping list, he thanks product runners graciously, simply answers “yes” to a cashier who asks if he’s a chef, and orders a humble tuna sandwich to go for dinner from the on-site diner.
“Chefs don’t eat very glamorously,” he says softly to a member of the three-person entourage who’s accompanied him on this evening’s errand.