Curry can mean many things, its contents and flavors capable of splitting off into innumerable directions. Two Indian vegetable curries from two restaurants on the same block can vary greatly, so imagine the differences between a Pakistani tikka karahi and a pork katsu curry from Osaka? In many cases, there is almost nothing relating them, other than perhaps the side of rice they are often served with (though the rices are likely to be very different too). Each curry has its merits as well as its followers, all different, all exciting. Today we focus on a particularly good one: Thai red curry with beef.
We began our battle at Pailin Thai, the small, friendly and charmingly relaxed spot on Hollywood Boulevard. Their red curry, like the restaurant itself, is muted and mellow. The dish is light and creamy, its natural intensity dulled by a healthy dose of coconut milk. There is a nice background of heat to go along with the refreshing Thai basil, adequately tender beef, and copious amounts of bamboo shoots. It is a simple curry, not one to blow you away, or really to strike your feelings too strongly in one direction or another. Its greatest flaw, it would seem, is how easy it is to forget it.
At Ruen Pair, just a few blocks down the road, the story is altogether different. The red curry is visually stunning, standing in stark contrast to the one at Pailin. It is a vibrant red, its surface dotted with small circles of fat. The aroma is much stronger as well, bringing in a certain level of fermented, fishy funk to mix in with the far less omnipresent coconut milk. It too has a large offering of bamboo shoots and Thai basil, but augments it with a little bit of sliced red bell pepper.
Purely by sight, its clear that Ruen Pair's is the more desirable curry, and following that up with a sip off your spoon confirms the suspicion. It is more invigorating than soothing, which is often what you want in a curry. The beef itself is not as satisfying, tasting a bit like the patty of an overcooked and under-seasoned 4th of July hamburger — but the point is moot at this juncture of the competition, as Ruen Pair's victory has already been sealed.
Pailin Thai: 5621 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, (323) 467-6775., Ruen Pair Thai: 5257 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 466-0153.
Noah Galuten can be followed on Twitter via @ManBitesWorld.