I was walking down Fourth Avenue last Friday on my way to check out the new location for Michael Mina’s RN74 when I stopped dead in my tracks. “Wait a minute!” I thought, reading a sidewalk sandwich-board touting the Harbor Cafe’s “Thai Panang Chix w/Jasmine Rice + Veggies” for $6.95. “Why does this place sound familiar?” Then the light bulb went on, and I hurried inside.
Stop. Look. Then get in there.
There, just off the lobby of the 1411 Fourth Avenue Building, I found the cafe and its owners: Thai chef Rut Poladitmontri and his business partner and kitchen sidekick, Judy Lew, who’ve been selling bargain-priced eats on the ground floor of this historic building since 2002. It had been years since I’d seen them last, and Judy’s eyes widened when I re-introduced myself.
You may know Chef Rut and Judy from their tenure as owners of the Lemon Grass Grill (now the Greenlake Bar & Grill) or their short-lived Roosevelt Square restaurant Satay Saute. You may even remember Judy from her time as a Uwajimaya cooking-class instructor, or maybe you own one of the couple’s cookbook collaborations, chief among them, “Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook.”
Judy, ever the marketing maven, shoved the book they co-authored into Chef Rut’s hands for this photo.
Well, time flies when you’re having fun. The pair have since ridden the rails as director of hotel operations for the American Orient Express (her) and the train’s executive chef (him) and Chef Rut has flown around the world as private chef for Starquest Expeditions (ask him to show you his photo album). But here on terra firma they continue to operate their petite cafe, serving a solid fan-base weekdays from 8:30 a.m. till 3 p.m..
Office wonks stop by to hang-out or take-out breakfasts and lunches from a menu offering everything from a bagel with cream cheese to a grilled-chicken salad to Thai classics like Swimming Angel, plus daily specials including Lemongrass Beef (Tuesdays), pot roast with mashed potatoes (Wednesdays) or the tenderly rendered Panang Chicken with fresh green beans whose advertisement caught my eye from the street.
When you order at the counter, be sure to ask for some of Chef Rut’s housemade hot-sauce.
Anyhoo, I hope it’s not another eight years before I meet-up with Chef Rut and Judy, and the next time you’re in the neighborhood I suggest you stop by for a bite to eat. Meanwhile, I was wondering: What other office building-hideaways for the hungry am I missing out on?