A bit of innocuous "recipient design" seems to be a trend among some restaurants these days—an alteration of menu, message, or service based on the intended customer. It’s a gentle, bright-eyed version of “give the people what they want,” a noncommittal way to cast the widest net possible. But it can also confuse customers. Is the restaurant Chinese or Korean? Cuban or Mexican?
Or, as is the case with : Thai or Italian-American? If I ever feel like some Fettuccine Alfredo or corned beef hash alongside my steaming bowl of Tom Kha Gai, I guess I now know where to go.
MJ Ready is a self-professed “International Bistro,” a tiny restaurant sandwiched between a watch repair shop and a threading salon inside the Brookline Arcade. The menu’s propensities lean profoundly towards Thai food, and tantalizing Thai food at that, but with a few oddities like Italian-style pasta and café sandwiches thrown into the mix.
With Chef Mayuree Brown (the “M” in the restaurant’s name) using such a deft, balanced hand with her native Thai specialties, why anyone would order a tuna melt here is beyond me. Brown expertly pays homage to her native country, with darlings like Pad Thai, Drunken Noodles, and curries, as well as less familiar dishes like Lap, a roasted rice dish common in northeast Thailand. Her husband, Jim Brown, operates the front-of-house, making it a real mae and bida—that’s mom and pop, in Thai—restaurant.
I loved a playful bowl of Tom Yum soup with shrimp ($4.75), delicately balancing flavors of lemongrass, lime, and chili oil. A dish of Pad Thai ($7.95 for small) comes as a tangle of chewy rice noodles and not-too-sweet sauce, sprinkled with ground peanuts and adorned with two raggedy-looking but fine shrimp. A slash of orange decorates the plate next to the noodles; it’s mango, sweet and buttery.
A bowl of Massaman Curry with tofu ($6.95 for small) hums with flavor, its creamy, coral-colored sauce studded with the red and green of bell peppers and tomatoes. The silky tofu is a pleasure to eat, the texture almost custard-like, and I found myself searching out all the pieces of tofu first, like a kid sifting through all the cereal to find the marshmallow bits.
Those entrees made up for the rather underwhelming appetizers. Thai Rolls ($4.95), petite, crispy logs filled mostly with chicken, celery, and cabbage, lacked interesting flavor even when dipped in their clear, sweet sauce. Skewered chicken Satay strips ($6.95) were too salty to my taste, the meat slathered inelegantly with sauce instead of infused with marinade, making the accompanying peanut and cucumber sauces entirely redundant.
Service was surprisingly slow, considering we were the only dine-in customers. As I jealously eyed the bags of the steady stream of take-out customers, my dining companion left to put more quarters in the parking meter. A handwritten sign on colored paper requests that we not bus our own tables, which means that during busy times, dirty dishes sit unattended for long stretches.
Our meal ended with cookies—chocolate chip, and shortbread in the shape of a daisy—that Jim bakes in-house. No matter what the cuisine, everybody loves a good cookie.
MJ Ready International Bistro is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 9pm. Dine-in, carry-out, and delivery. 318 Harvard Street, inside the Brookline Arcade building at Coolidge Corner. All major credit cards accepted. MBTA: Green line (C) to Coolidge Corner.