Often relegated to sickly-sweet Pad Thai at take out joints, I'm usually left disgusted with the selection of Thai restaurants in New York City. And with possible the exception of Mexican food, does New York do a greater disservice to any ethnic food more than Thai? Instead of delicious food that combines sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors harmoniously, many of the Thai restaurants I've sampled offer a mere semblance of this proud and complex country. Yet, on further inspection, I've come to the conclusion that my inability to find good Thai food was the result of not knowing where to look.
Fortunately for me, one of MW's friends does know where some the best Thai food is and helped steer us in the right direction. So after work I found myself jumping on the 7 train uptown to Woodside, Queens where I met up with MW, YW, JC, MC and LC at Sripraphai Thai Restaurant. Located near the train station, Sripraphai was a full house when I met my dinner party outside. After a short wait, we were seated at one of the restaurant's larger tables. The interior has little, if any, ambiance. Instead, the restaurant's space is configured for squeezing the maximal amount of people into its walls.
We left the majority of ordering up to MC since she was more familiar with the restaurant. We sternly stipulated that under no circumstances would we order the ubiquitous Pad Thai.
We started with Thai Ice Teas to drink. The tea was creamy and incredibly sweet, helping temper the heat from several of the dishes we ordered.
The first set of dishes we received were two salads. We ordered a Green Papaya Salad that I unfortunately did not get a picture of before it was eaten, and a Thai Beef Salad. It only took a single bite to know that we were in for a treat. The heat from the chilis, the sweet and sour flavors from the pickled vegetables, combined with contrasting textures, making for an interesting dish.
Another winner was the B.B.Q. Pork marinated in Honey and Chili. This dish was a shining example of the four different flavors combining together to create a special dish.
Next were our soups. First was a Ground Pork with Mustard Green Soup. Although delicate in flavor, the broth epitomized how a proper stock should taste like. We eagerly slurped up the clear noodles with bits of pork, bitter greens and herbaceous bits of cilantro.
As good as the first soup was, the Tom-Yum Shrimp Soup may have been even better. Spicy and sour at the same time, the soup's flavor emphasized the earthiness of the mushrooms and sweetness of the shrimp.
The Jungle Curry with Chicken and Mixed Vegetables was good but not great. The chicken and vegetables became lost within the sauce, and while the curry had a nice richness from the coconut milk, it lacked the proper amount of heat needed to tie all the flavors together properly.
The next two dishes were the weakest of the meal. The Fried Fish Cake had a subtle fish flavor and developed a bit of texture from being deep fried but was unspectacular. The Fried Shrimp Roll was reminiscent of something you'd find at a Chinese restaurant during dim sum only worse.
On the other hand, the Seasoned Pork with Garlic and Chili Peppers was great. Eaten with some of the Sticky Rice which acted as our utensils for the evening, the pork flavor really sung with the accompanying garlic and heat of the chilis.
A plate of Fried Soft Shell Crabs arrived, covered in Chilis, Garlic and Basil Leaves. Each bite yielded a shot of crabby flavor that we couldn't get enough of as the plate was quickly cleaned.
But, the highlight of the meal was a whole Fried Red Snapper covered in a Red Chili Sauce. The fish was very moist, a result of proper frying, but it was the chili sauce that helped transform this dish into something truly special. The sweet and spicy chili sauce added an addictive but subtle burning sensation that left you reaching for more.
Feeling a bit gluttonous, we decided to supplement our meal with some roughage. So, naturally, we ordered the Sautéed Chinese Broccoli with Crispy Pork. In reality, this dish was comprised of some greens with gigantic chunks of fried pork belly, which only reinforced the idea that everything tastes better with bacon.
To end our meal, we decided to be adventurous and sample some Thai desserts. I have tried many Asian desserts where rice is incorporated into the dish, but have never fallen in love with any of them. Sadly, these desserts didn't change my mind. The Sticky Rice and Banana wrapped in Banana Leaves had a mild banana flavor but was surprisingly salty.
Balls of Rice Flour, Coconut Milk and Sugar lacked the salty element of the sticky rice, but mysteriously contained chives and corn kernels. If anyone more familiar with Thai desserts can explain to me about these curious additions, I'd like to know the logic behind them. Regardless, this wasn't my favorite either.
The Coconut Cream with Purple Sticky Rice may have had the most potential of any of the desserts, but was also undone by a very heavy dose of salt. Though I enjoy the combination of sweet and savory flavors in desserts, such as the addition of fleur de sel in caramel or a cookie, this was too much even for me.
Lastly was the Coconut Custard with Coconut Cream. Inexplicably bland, this tasted like coconut milk over unflavored gelatin.
Even with some less-than-stellar desserts, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. Restaurants like Sripraphai remind you that its not so much what you know about food, but rather who you know. From the non-existent ambiance to the incredible food, many thanks go out to MC for introducing me to this restaurant-- and to authentic Thai food.
Sripraphai Thai Restaurant
64-13 39th Avenue
Woodside, NY 11377
To see all our pics please click the flickr link.