In my last few posts, I’ve been focusing a lot on weight, but I’m going to take the opportunity now to head on back to a golden oldie, age. I do this because only very recently — well after everyone else, it would seem — I discovered that beloved Thai-Chinese cookshop Yong Lee had closed down. The chef, second generation after the passing of her father, founder Keepong sae Dan, has developed diabetes, and decided to put her health first. It’s sad (for me), but a very wise decision. It’s just a shame since there were many times I passed by the open shopfront on motorcycle and failed to go in, thinking I would have time in the near future for a meal. Unfortunately, no. I will miss their nuea pla kapong pad prik dum (stir-fried seabass with black peppercorns) and hae gun tod grob (crispy fried shrimp dumplings), and a bunch of other stuff besides.
Not that I would have been able to try the food in the past couple of weeks. While in Japan, I somehow managed to injure myself in what I have been told was an eating-related ailment … like an athletic injury, but for people who stuff their faces. What I thought to be an ear infection was actually a painful inflammation of the joint in my jaw, which my doctor says must have been triggered after chewing too enthusiastically on Nagano’s apple-fed beef. The pain was enough to cause a migraine that radiated all the way to the top of my head. So I was ordered to eat soup and rice porridge until the pain went away.
I imagined a future like this lady:
But luckily the pain went away after a few days, which was lucky for me because I went to Florida Hotel’s Tampa Coffee Shop (not to be confused with its Orlando Dining Room) for the first time a little while later. No one calls it by its coffee shop name though, preferring to simply call it “Florida Hotel Restaurant” (43 Phaya Thai Rd., 02-247-0991).
This is a restaurant that inspires a lot of questions. First and foremost, where have you been all my life, Florida Hotel Restaurant?
The answer: it’s always been there, since 1968, and my ignorance and laziness kept me from going sooner. My loss, because this is the Thai-Chinese-Western diner of my dreams, attached to a hotel that is abandoned-looking enough to plausibly be haunted (some Google reviews: “feels like no one stays there”, “old fashioned”) but bright and crowded enough inside to inspire comparisons to the diner in “Happy Days” or, if you’re too young for that, “the Peach Pit” in “Beverly Hills 90210” (RIP Luke Perry).
The original chef is said to have learned his recipes at the knee of Rama V’s own farang chef, but the menu doesn’t stick to the old cookshop favorites that most of those types of restaurants (like Yong Lee) featured. If you are too lazy to flip through the menu, specials are listed on the wall: there is a hamburger, and filet mignon, and a freaking club sandwich. The barbecued ribs, a photo of which adorns the menu’s front cover, are good enough to be found on a paper plate in any backyard in actual Florida, tender and smothered in a ketchupy sauce with a hint of spice. The special Florida Hotel salad comes with big chunks of canned white asparagus and unwrapped slices of processed cheese (please don’t cheese your dining companion). And there’s soup! Although …
No, the reason why the place is so crowded isn’t the recommended Western-inspired specials. It’s because of their renditions of Thai-Chinese favorites, like the goy see mee (stir-fried egg noodles in gravy) and the mee krob (a tamarind- and citrus-touched noodle dish that I’ve just learned is Thai-Chinese, not pure Thai).
So I suppose there is plenty more I will have to try to really get to know Florida Hotel Restaurant. But when you are newly freed from a dependence on soup, gnawing on a pork rib with sauce is enough to remind you that you’re not dead yet.