Day: September 18th, 2006

Dinner at Sripraphai

Monday, September 18th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Friends

I’ve been reading about Sripraphai (see-PRA-pie) for years, and actively thinking about it for over a month, but oddly, I’d never motivated the trip out to Woodside to check out for myself what most regard as the best Thai restaurant in New York City. Really odd, considering that I trek out to farther flung areas of Queens at least once a week. What was once just a buzz about the restaurant on the foodie-boards, has grown into a din of explosive praise over the past couple of years, ushering humble Sripraphai into the limelight of official dining destinations. Frank Bruni 2-starred them back in November 2004, the 2005 Zagat’s named Sripraphai one of the 50 best restaurants in the city and New York Magazine ranked it number 5 of the 101 best Cheap Eats in New York — and one of only seven restaurants in the city granted 5-star status.

So after a couple of inspiring trips out to Pam’s, I sent SC an email asking her if she’d like to join me in this culinary adventure. JG and SYB quickly signed on — Sripraphai newbies all — and we made the arrangements for the following Monday.

A quick shot to 61st Street/Woodside on the 7 Express. From there, it was a just few blocks walk under the elevated subway tracks along Roosevelt to our destination. A second round of expansions and renovations in late 2004 had doubled the Sripraphai seating area to 70 (not including the back garden) and transformed the once utilitarian space into a more welcoming spot. I wasn’t sure what to expect (since clearly the food, and not the ambience, is the main draw), but considering that the owners probably needn’t have bothered too much with creating a pleasing dining area, they’ve done a decent job. We bypassed the main room for the garden tables out back, which was far prettier than I had expected: landscaped, with a central burbling fountain, and a perimeter lined with flowered shrubs — and one curious cat.

Garden

The wonderful spicy scents emanating from the kitchen were enough to send my stomach grumbling into high gear. One of the menus had accompanying color photos of all the dishes. Everything looked crazy delicious!

With some difficulty, we finally winnowed down our choices to four dishes and an appetizer: the Crispy Chinese Watercress Salad, Shrimp Pad Thai (for a baseline comparison), Drunken Noodles with Beef, the Sautéed Crispy Pork with Chile and Basil Leaves and Whole Red Snapper with Green Mango. Also fragrant bowls of sticky rice and coconut rice, hot tea (for SC who was nursing an oncoming cold), Thai iced teas and coffees for the rest of us.

Monday may be the best night to go. I’d read about waits stretching to over an hour during peak weekend hours, but this night at 8:00PM, the restaurant was hardly half full. Take note: the restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.

The food! Unfortunately my photos aren’t very good, and once the plates hit the table, it seemed just too obnoxious to hold up everyone else from eating while I figured out my lighting issues. But here are a couple.

The salad – a pile of crisp, lightly battered, fried watercress, with cilantro, red onion, cashews, chicken, squid and shrimp, bathed in a refreshing chile, lime, fish sauce and sugar combination. Whole red chiles, and long strips of green chiles, which were dangerously difficult to distinguish from the watercress in the dim light of the garden. (Disaster and tears were narrowly avoided at the last moment.)

Watercress Salad

We requested the food at a “medium” level of spice, and in retrospect, I am very grateful that we didn’t attempt the “Thai spicy.” One bite of the broad, flat drunken noodles with beef, chile, and basil leaves and a slow burn began at the base of my tongue, building until it engulfed my entire mouth. Thankfully, the waitstaff is very attentive with the water glass refilling. I suppose they have to be.

The pork was richly fatty and crispy as advertised, with shreds of bright basil and flecks of vibrantly red chile. Wonderful! And the whole fried red snapper with green mango salad: crispy, tender and moist all at once, with a delicately seasoned topping of shredded fruit, just spicy enough to give a kick – though not as incendiary as the drunken noodles or the crispy pork. Oh my.

Fried Fish

Tongues a-tingle, we ate and ate until we could eat no more. (SYB really should have stopped before chomping down on that final chile, in an ill-advised stroke of capsaicin-exploding bravado.) And still there was more food. We packed up the rest, defeated, but fully satisfied.

On the way out, we could not pass up the refrigerated case filled with glorious Thai desserts: coconut and pumpkin custard squares, banana sticky rice, delicate marzipans. And a dazzling array of Thai pastes and preserves (most with helpful English labels.)

Sauces

So many things on the menu beckon to me, a return trip to Woodside is already in the works. Fried softshell crab – bring it on!

On the way back into Manhattan, the four of us stopped in at SYB’s to catch the premiere of The Rachael Ray  show that he had set to TiVo while he was at work, for reasons he has yet to fully explain. No comment; the headline of this Yahoo! News article says it all: “Rachael Ray Show” potentially annoying.

Except I would perhaps replace “potentially” with definitely” or “extremely.”  Never did I expect to hear the words “slut shoes” come out of inaugural guest Diane Sawyer’s mouth. I hope to never hear them again.

[Edited to add: I want to know who at Sony Music is responsible for this.  Stop the madness! ]

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