I don’t usually mention Sripraphai re-visits because they’re frequent and my ordering style is repetitive. I’m only bringing this meal up because I’d never attempted take out before and was highly impressed by the thoughtful packaging.
I always come back from vacation dying for whatever food wasn’t where I just was, even if the cuisine I did eat was remarkable and even if I was only away for a few days. It’s not even like there’s tons of “real” Cuban food in NYC anyway. But the first business-lined intersection we hit after exiting the BQE from the airport en route to Sripraphai was Roosevelt and 69th, with El Sitio staring right at us across the road. No! No more Cuban food.
On Monday, our last night in Miami, I gave in decided to visit the pool. (Said pool at left, and don't worry, there's no way in hell I'm exposing myself online in a bathing suit.) At 4:30, it was well-past prime tanning time and the area wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded. Based on their reading material, a majority of the bathers and layabouts remaining were German and Eastern European. As the sun was about to set, an Asian couple showed up. The female, kind of plain and in a Louis Vuitton logoed bikini and khaki fishing hat that she kept on even in the water, her male counterpart, slightly sourpussy and portly. I knew I wasn’t in Brooklyn or else he would’ve been a skinny white dude with glasses. I enjoyed their conversation.
Hat girl: I want Cuban food for dinner.
Portly guy: No more Cuban food, it’s not good for you.
Hat girl: [sulking] I’m going to eat Cuban food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Portly guy: No.
Hat girl: Now I want ice cream.
And she got it, too. No one else in the pool area looked like food had touched their lips all afternoon. But leave it to an Asian girl to bring a substantial bowl of ice cream into the pool, squat on the shallow end stairs and chow down. Meanwhile, the only other person eating anything in the vicinity was a black woman with a bizarrely ample backside and thighs thicker than this girl’s waist, eating an apple.
That’s what’s wrong with this world. Skinny girls gobbling ice cream with abandon and hefty gals nibbling fruit. I want to know what goes on behind closed doors, you know, food anthropology. Would the ice cream eater really go on to polish off a massive plate of rice, beans and lechon? Would the fruit snacker eat salad with dressing on the side for dinner? Is there such a thing as a “good” metabolism or is a calorie a calorie? In some ways I’m hoping the former because maybe this essence could be captured and manufactured. Why are we wasting time on cancer and AIDS research when it could be medically possible to eat like a pig and remain lithe as a gazelle? Now I sound like a Cathy. Ack.
So, I went overboard with my ordering at Sripraphai and got drunken noodles with chicken, crispy pork with chile and basil, duck curry with eggplant and bamboo shoots, and the crispy watercress salad that I had originally decided against because I figured the crispy bits would rapidly turn to sog by the time we got around to eating them (we’d recently eaten lunch and were picking up dinner to eat like five hours into the future). But I love the salad so much that I ran the risk. However, they package up the wet parts separately from the crunchy stuff. So smart, like a McDLT yet successful.
While waiting, I had time to peruse the shelves and refrigerated cases unimpeded because the restaurant was nearly empty, which is a rare thing. I decided on a container of four rectangular rice-based sweets that I don’t recall being combined together before, and num prek ta deng (their spelling, I always want to say nam prik). They have a slew of nam priks to choose from. I picked this one because it contained shrimp and sugar and I like my searing heat with a touch of sweetness and fishiness.
(My latest short-lived regimen has been the nam prik diet where I bring a cup of jasmine rice to work topped with a generous blob of chile paste. This lunch yesterday nearly killed me. I love insanely hot food but the proportion of paste to rice was askew and I literally burned my tongue and roof of my mouth. Of course, that didn’t stop me from finishing my painful meal.)
I was trying to think of an excuse for brining home enough food for three meals (other than sheer gluttony, of course). Well, September 4 is kind of my anniversary and that’s a good enough reason as any. Kind of, because dating anniversaries don’t seem to count and kind of because James barely acknowledges it anyway and insists that it’s somewhere in October. Yet since eight years is more substantial than many marriages (at least any that I’m acquainted with) and I’m not terribly marriage minded, it counts. (9/4/07)
I could eat at Sripraphai every day, or at least weekly. Whenever we make an Elmhurst Target trip it comes to mind (which isn’t great because it means that I never get around to trying the hundreds of other interesting places along Roosevelt Ave.) but James often vetoes it because he says we’ve just been there.
Well, obviously, we haven’t been going enough because since our last visit they’ve expanded into the space on the other side (next thing you know they’re going to push out the hair salon and sports bar on the corner), put up a shiny new sign and added a vegetarian menu. Frankly, I was a little scared. I totally disagreed with the naysayers who claimed the food went downhill after the first expansion. And the food was as fine and spicy as ever on this visit, too. But the brown rice, chopsticks, no fish sauce crowd does make me nervous because they’re a demanding, vocal bunch. Like they’re not satisfied enough to have their needs catered to in their own neighborhoods, they have to impose their dietary habits on other boroughs too (I guarantee they don’t live in Queens)?
We’re all set in our ways, I suppose. For instance, we always order the same freaking dishes like seniors who are too scared to take culinary chances. I swear, next visit I’m ordering all things I’ve never tried before. I mean, there’s plenty of selection. Here’s a rundown of the usual:
Crispy Chinese Watercress Salad. Obviously, it’s not a salad in the American sense (I really loathe 90% of those salads) but a pile of battered, fried watercress, cilantro, red onion slices, cashews, chicken, squid, shrimp, bathed in a chile, lime, fish sauce and sugar combo. The balance is just right, I can never get that flavor foursome to act like that. After you’ve eaten most of the dish, you’re left with a liquidy goop strewn with herbs and soggy batter bits. We love the goop ("the goop" reminds me of "the drink," the melted remains of Farrell’s mocha nut parfait that my friend Todd and I would relish after the sundae had been ravaged). Simple rice and goop would be a treat in itself.
Drunken Noodles with Chicken. The little dish of chile laden fish sauce is a nice touch. Noodles are overkill. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t order them. I usually take just a small scoopful, but we get them primarily as a meal for the next day. Once we ordered drunken noodles to go after we ate our meal and it felt like an hour passed before we got them. Now we get them with the rest of the food as a preemptive measure. I will say they are much tastier than my truly drunken attempt at replicating them.
Roasted Duck in Hot & Spicy Sauce with Thai Eggplant & Bamboo Shoots. Yum. I don’t care how dumb yum sounds. I love duck and bamboo shoots, separately, so together with little eggplant wedges in a hyper rich curry, it’s double goodness. It’s probably not wise to eat large portions of this.
Sautéed Crispy Pork with Chile & Basil Leaves. It’s likely even less wise to eat large portions of this. Unfortunately, I could practically polish off the entire serving myself. Crispy, fatty pork is my favorite food in the universe. Filipino lechon is pure meat, so you feel extremely decadent. With this, you can kind of pretend that you’re eating a balanced dish because there are some chiles and basil tossed in. I know, some people don’t care for the hardness of the meat–it’s not like a juicy pork chop–but those people are nuts. I’ve heard lots of raves for Chinese broccoli with crispy pork, but I’m too scared to branch out.
I always get the pumpkin custard squares to go. James isn’t as crazy about Asian sweets as I am, but I made him pick something else out just because. He chose these rice crispy things that I’d never had before. I’m guessing that they are puffed jasmine rice crackers glazed with carmelized palm sugar. He didn’t want one in the car, which was his loss. Just this very second he came in my room, empty plastic container in hand, with an incredulous look on his face. Yes, I ate the whole thing in 24 hours (he managed to polish off the entire tub of gummy bears we bought at Western Beef yesterday). (4/29/06)
I wanted Thai marzipan for my party, but forgot they were closed on Wednesdays. Luckily, I had Friday off work and was able to head back. I’m still not used to their list of specials alcohol license. I usually stick to what I know and love, but branched out and tried a special of soft shell crab in green curry with pumpkin, pineapple and green beans. I love that combo of produce, and it’s a good thing because one crab isn’t really much to share. I didn’t figure that there would be two crustaceans at $12.95, using Noodletown’s two for $14.95 as comparison, but I’m cheap and would like to think that $10.95 would’ve been a more acceptable price. But that’s as much experimenting as I could handle on one visit. Well, we did order beef massamun curry, which we never do. How come I never noticed how much the stewed curry resembles rendang? It seems like such fitting cold weather food, it’s hard to imagine its tropical origins. (12/2/05)
I just cant stay away. We also went days before our vacation, which I didnt write about. It was bizarre because I was sick with a severe cold and the normally welcome heat absolutely killed my mouth. I always thought people who claimed not to be able to tolerate spice were full of crap (I also have the same feeling towards most folks who claim food and animal allergies). Ok, its true, spicy food can be really painful. Maybe flu heightens the taste buds or something. Blue cheese also hurt my mouth.
I really am becoming one of those "I remember when…" folks. Remember when you could get a seat no problem? Remember when it was BYOB? Remember when suburban upper middle class white families from brownstone Brooklyn didnt ruin your meal with their horribly mannered kids were are old enough to act better?
Sripraphai always had waits during peak hours, but it seems insane that after practically tripling their space the waits are even longer. On this visit it was raining, so like twenty anxious diners including myself, jammed into the side section and began snaking between tables. What is this? Schillers? There’s nothing less appetizing than mobs of people hovering for your spot. Even at NY Noodletown the eager are kind of kept at bay up front. I was able to make use of the extra 30 minutes or so to become better acquainted with the refrigerated case goodies and shelves of snacks. Luckily, we were seated far from the fray at a corner spot. Good thing or I mightve sworn off Sripraphai, at least for a month or so. (4/30/05)
I hate to be one of those "I remember when…it used to be better" old-timers that waxes nostalgic about original versions of things, but I’m not sure how I feel about the new improved Sripraphai even though the food is still stellar. It’s just not the same now that its shiny and spacious. There are more white people (nothing against white people, of course), more byob bottles of wine on tables, and the clincher…customers insisting on using chopsticks. That is so not right, and I swear in my many, many visits to the old Sri I never ever saw patrons eschewing the proper fork and spoon combo for almost completely un-Thai chopsticks.
We had all of our favorites: watercress salad, crispy basil pork, duck and eggplant curry, plus drunken noodles, which we don’t always get. And they all rocked as usual, though as is typical with human nature we werent sure if we were really detecting nuanced differences (the salad seemed ever so less spicy and slightly sourer than usual) or if we were being influenced by the fancier digs.
It was frightening to witness a line form and spill outside despite their space at least tripling (possibly quadrupling–I’m bad with spatial judgment). Initially, I was pleased that the glass cases and shelves of goodies were now more accessible and less cramped to browse, but by the end of our dinner thats exactly where hungry diners congregated while waiting for free seats. I tried to politely extract a container of pumpkin custard from the cooler, but still managed to smack a girl with the door when she wouldn’t budge despite my warning "excuse mes."
Growing pains, thats probably all. I just fear a broadening of clientele might spell watering down of the cuisine Sripraphai has become so renown for upholding. Too many newcomers asking for mild spicing and fish sauce-less preparations might ruin it for the rest of us. Not to be paranoid or anything. (1/4/05)
I always neglect to mention Sripraphai these days because its nearly a given that I will go about once a month and almost always order the exact same things. Watercress salad and crispy pork and basil are just about mandatory. On this particular visit we also tried the catfish curry and drunken noodles. No complaints. This Saturday afternoon I spontaneously decided I needed to go to Portland the following day to see my dad on life support. I never go home, but under circumstances like this it would be heartless not to, even though I’d only been at a brand new job for three weeks. A little surprised at myself for the sudden choice and future uncertainty, I craved something familiar and satisfying. Sripraphai instantly came to mind. I guess thats what they mean by comfort food. Though I’m writing this after reading the big hubbub Bruni review that transcended the expected $25 and Under column. I havent been back to see the expanded, post-NY Times incarnation. Frankly, I’m a little scared. (10/16/04)
New cook? My usual crispy pork with basil and chiles was decidedly un-crispy. Not that it was bad. I also noted a lack of lime leaves on the penang curry. It was a total line-out-the-door frenzy that evening, so I hope it was a fluke. (9/14/03)
We made it there and back in record time. Using the BQE instead of the 59th St. Bridge (is that what it’s called?), I swear we got there in like 15 minutes, which it totally unheard of. Crispy basil pork, penang chicken, spicy noodles with ground chicken, beef jerky and little white sweet-salty squares with three black beans on top. (10/29/02)
Two words: Thai marzipan. They make adorable miniature fruits and vegetables with mung bean paste and painted gelatin. (10/?/02)
I have tasted pure painful heat, and its name is southern curry. This is beyond hot. I had no idea what we were getting into. I merely suggested it to James since I suspected it didn’t contain coconut milk, which he isn’t into. Boy oh boy, this stuff is incendiary. But in the best of ways, of course.
I vaguely knew they had a back garden, but had never seen it face to face until this time. Wow, a balmy Saturday night with eggplant and duck curry and basil crispy pork is pretty close to perfect. (7/13/02)
Crispy catfish salad, Penang chicken curry and crispy fried pork with basil, all "Thai hot." Yum, a perfect Friday night meal. And what a scorcher it was. I may have a hard time making James take me back. He was all gung ho on basil chicken (from Bennie’s, which isn’t so horrible, but it’s no Sripraphai), which Sripraphai does not make. He got the above dishes instead and insisted he was burning like in every place possible and kept wiping his tongue with the paper napkin, as if that was going to help. Yep, a return visit is going to take some convincing. And I’ll be damned if I have to order a dish spiced mild…the humiliation. (12/21/01)
I took off early (3:30)Fri. as I was supposed to be heading to Boston for work. Well, it was 8pm, and I was just getting on BQE (not my fault, I’m not the one with the car). It was a little stressful since there was at least a four hour trek ahead. Part way through Queens, James asked where we were and I looked up and noted, "near Sripraphai." Hmmm, an idea formed. Why bother with the inevitable rest stop food, when some of the tastiest Thai is town was just an exit away. So, we got to Boston even an hour later, but I was smiling the whole way. It doesn’t get any better than pumpkin custard for the road. (8/17/01)
After spending a grueling heatwave Saturday in Long Island City looking for a new used car (not even for me, I was just a naive tagalong who’ll know better next time), Sripraphai just made sense. I’d just taken a two-day Thai cooking workshop at Peter Kump’s a few days before and was raring to go. I’d already been inspired to whip up a red curry of my own, but I wanted restaurant food and none of that wimpy Manhattan stuff would suffice.
I immediately liked the two TVs playing the Food Network (nevermind that Emeril was on–isn’t he always on?) in the tiny space. It was really kind of nutty, but charming. What really bowled me over was the amazing photo menu in a binder. It was total porn. Or maybe like thumbing through headshots of models with the clout to pick and choose at whim (not that I know what that feels like). I’m just a sucker for pretty pictures, what can I say?
We chose a seafood salad with squid and shrimp, and it was hot alright. The best kind of hot, just on the verge of tear-inducing, but not quite. After that we had a spicy duck dish and noodles with some sort of ground meat, that I don’t think was chicken even though that’s what we specified (I wish I could remember the exact titles). I suppose going with a large group would be ideal for more tasting options. I feared looking like a pig if I ordered ridiculous amounts of food like I wanted to.
I did get carried away at the front counter. Pretty pictures are one thing, but boy, colorful, coconutty, gooey desserts really get the blood (and arteries–all that coconut milk must take years off your life) pumping. I’m all primed to go back, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Thai food. Ha, but now that a new used car has finally been purchased, there’s no excuse not to head out to Woodside with increased frequency.(6/30/01)
Sripraphai * 6413 39th Ave., Woodside, NY