New Thai on the block for the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Panvimarn shines brightest in the afternoon sun, its glistening golden décor appearing like the gilded interior of a jewelry box. And during these lengthened days of soon-to-be-summer, the restaurant is even more precious, with its carefully contemporary atmosphere transformed into a palatial setting that fosters a different class of Thai cooking.
For what must have been months, the restaurant has been a dream deferred, its idyllic vision stalled by construction. Signs of Panvimarn’s impending opening appeared long before wrecking crews beset the neighboring Cal Fed building. But now that the bank has been cracked open to its structural skeleton, Panvimarn is here to serve: an elegant two-story space mere blocks from Long Beach City College that already has clear command of its kitchen.
The menu here isn’t focused on fusion, but it is one set on elucidating recipes that in some less elegant circumstances can confound. Panvimarn isn’t as adventurous as, say, CanCoon Thai in Bellflower or LA’s Jitlada, but this doesn’t mean that the restaurant dulls its dishes. It does play it a bit too cute sometimes—menu sections like “Rice is Nice” and “Oodles of Noodles,” in particular—but it’s all in the service of accessibility.
Ease in and start with a salad. Staples like papaya salad and larb are expectedly good, but seafood might be Panvimarn’s surest salad strength. The fried filet of sole bests any beer-battered competition, perked up by a green mango dressing. Shrimp, squid, mussels, fish and crab all find their way into the so-called fisherman salad. But it’s the soft-shell crab salad that’s most memorable. The crab is cracked in half and fried until even its limbs fracture like crisp chips. Crinkle-cut apples, cherry tomatoes and (curiously) green and red grapes make up the base. It’s as much a fruit salad as anything else, a sweet and light starter at times dominated by a briny bite of crab.
Soft-shell crab also appears in soupier states. There’s the soft-shell crab curry, which combines onion, bell pepper, egg, yellow curry and a blast of chile sauce. Or there’s an actual soup, which deploys a coconut-based broth, young coconut, lemongrass, lime and chile to counter the crab. Both options better complete the soft-shell crab than the salad, each balancing the crab’s natural saltiness with a complete cast of flavors.
Panvimarn cooks up seven curries in its kitchen, most interesting being the roast duck curry. Grapes make another appearance in the dish, one countered by cherry tomatoes, pineapple, sweet basil, kaffir lime and lychee fruit. Lychee is a typical addition in duck curries, and it’s a smart one here, adding a creamy component that plays well with the coconut-heavy red curry. The duck is still the central ingredient, though, its tender meat and crisp skin completely penetrated by the curry until it succumbs to a supremely soft texture.
There are a number of meatless meals (including curries and stir-fries) sure to appeal to vegetarian eaters, but grilled dishes like the usual Thai barbecue pork are worthwhile as always, and a better option than the admittedly out-of-place chicken teriyaki and bulgogi. The restaurant’s appetizers also contain a number of good meat-centric options, like a nicely blistered Isan sausage and either beef or pork jerky served with sweet chile sauce.
Despite the fact that Panvimarn is mere months into its existence, it’s already a restaurant on sure footing. That it has upscaled its Thai vision into some sort of golden dream is but a bonus—all the pristine plates would be nothing without confident cooking.
PANVIMARN 4101 BELLFLOWER BLVD | STE C | LONG BEACH 90808 | 562.425.2601 | PANVIMARN.COM | OPEN SUN-THURS 11AM-10PM | FRI-SAT 11AM-10:30PM | FOOD FOR TWO $20-35 | BEER, WINE