278 Smith St between DeGraw and Sackett Sts, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn (718-834-0505). Subway: F, G to Carroll St. Sun--Thu noon--11pm; Fri, Sat noon--11:30pm. Average main course: $10. Cash only.
The slick new Thai kitchen Em may be too chic for its own good. While the modernist design touches—including vinelike wall sculptures, Lucite lamps and resin chairs—are cool, they’re also cold. Yes, the look is a vast improvement over the decor at 3 Beau Thais (the previous tenant in this Carroll Gardens space), but it’s hard to enjoy without a crowd. And a steady hum of techno beats only accentuated just how dead it was one night (a high volume of phone calls suggests that they do a brisk takeout and delivery business). Ambiance aside, the prodigiously portioned and surprisingly light dishes were enough to win us over. We especially liked the citrus kick in the green papaya salad and the flakiness of the spring rolls, which were stuffed with vermicelli, cabbage and taro (a root vegetable). Couples and families can share big bowls of fragrant coconut-milk-based Massaman curry topped with fried onions and cashews, or a dish called Two Best Friends (pictured)—a belly-filling portion of tender shrimp and squid with onion, bell pepper and scallions in a lip-stinging chili sauce. The food could give nearby Thai joints Joya and Tuk Tuk a run for their money, but the scene, from what we’ve seen, will not.—TONY