Before indulging in a stream of compulsory (only to me) vacation dining recaps, I must first mention NYC’s Thai stalwart, Sripraphai. I dine there maybe every month-and-a-half and will always defend it against downhill alerts no matter how big they get for their britches, but haven’t posted about it in ages because I always order the same things and find the food to be generally consistent. No need for an update. However, I did want to assess the restaurant post-Thailand vacation.
While Sripraphai’s menu strays in many directions (northern khao soi and larb as well as the formidable southern curry) the bulk of what they serve is very close to what you’ll find in Bangkok: rich curries and multi-textured salads that skew slightly more sweet than hot. Awesome and never tiresome. I could eat this food every single day and not get bored (even though I indulged in some Sizzler and German fare in Bangkok).
By sweet, I don’t mean the lime juice-and-sugar dominated papaya salads of Brooklyn. Sripraphai still manages more spice than your corner Thai joint (though occasionally they go too tame–I’m not sure what to think of this Chowhound code word business). Their heat level and style of cooking is very much in line with Bangkok’s renowned Chote Chitr, which I finally got to try. Yet when we went three hours south to beachy Hua Hin, the non-touristy food was jarring and outright incendiary. I loved it, but never encountered that chile intensity in Bangkok. You probably won’t find it at Sripraphai either.
On my last visit just before heading out of town I decided to go wild and order something I’d never had before. Meet the bbq pork salad. Slightly different than the Thai salads I normally eat, this fatty grilled pork mélange is very limey and coated with roughly chopped garlic. While balanced, I prefer more sweet and hot.
Like the dressing on he crispy Chinese watercress salad that never gets old. There’s just too much going on to get tired of it. Shrimp, shredded chicken, toasted cashews for crunch and dominate battered, fried watercress that manages to never be greasy. The best part might be the “goop” (that’s what we call it) that pools at the bottom of the plate from the dressing, sliced shallots, chopped chiles, cilantro and bits of pliable fallen-off batter on the verge of turning soggy. Never waste the goop. I could eat it over rice. Looking at this photo makes me very sad that I have vegetarian chicken salad sandwich and yogurt for lunch. I have never seen this dish in Thailand (I’ve only been twice, so hardly scouring the nation) or encountered it elsewhere in the US. Maybe it’s a bastardized invention.
Crispy pork is always a must. The more decadent version is stir-fired with chiles and basil. When I’m pretending to be healthy (you know, ordering two pork dishes at one meal) I pick the porcine nubs tossed with Chinese broccoli. Though flavored with little more than garlic and oyster sauce (maybe a little soy sauce too), there is nothing dull about this meat-enlivened vegetable dish.
Then a curry. My favorite is the thick one with duck, eggplant and bamboo shoots. This is a typical panang, one of the big three, with beef. Rich, just a little spicy and covered with torn lime leaves and a drizzle of coconut cream. Nobody dislikes panang curry.
No desserts this time around, though when I do pick up a little plastic container to go it’s usually pumpkin custard squares. I checked out the new Filipino bakery catty-corner to Sripraphai but wasn’t feeling inspired by any of the ensaimadas. I just wanted a slice of ube chiffon cake.
Sripraphai * 64-13 69th Ave., Woodside, NY