Am-Thai Chili Basil Kitchen
1/2 I already admitted my aversion to hotdogs, though I did enjoy a nice steamy, gooey carton of Nathan’s cheese fries at Coney Island on the fourth. Maybe it’s the heat and humidity conjuring up Bangkok memories, but when it’s hot and disgusting out (and I’m a little hungover) I always want Thai food.
I generally steer clear of it in Brooklyn because it just makes me too sad. In the back of my head, though, I’ve been aware of Kensington’s Am-Thai. It’s just that I’m never in the vicinity. A Coney Island to Carroll Gardens drive would finally give me the excuse.
I used to live on 31st Street, on the west side of Greenwood Cemetery in what people like to call Greenwood Heights even though it’s Sunset Park, so I’m familiar with general area. But Kensington, and specifically, this restaurant, is a straight line east through the cemetery in a totally different world. If Am-Thai existed when I lived down there, it would’ve been semi-reasonable walk. The immediate area seems to be a Bangladeshi hub–I want to go back and check out Ghoroa because I love Indian sweets even though they are literally the death of me.
While there is a makeshift table outside so you can pretend you’re in Thailand and another one inside, Am-Thai is very much a takeout affair. Upping the authenticity quotient last Sunday were the hot air blowing fans, no air conditioning, no way. We must’ve looked like we were suffering; while waiting for our order we were given a complimentary iced tea, sweet and thick with condensed milk. I loathe southern sweet tea (so full of hate, I know, I can’t help my hotdog and sugary beverage issues) but the creaminess and strong tannins made this one work.
Ocean salad was just one of a handful of seafood salads. Normally, salads are where you get the heat. Not true here. This was tamest dish of all, much more sweet, sour and lemongrassy than anything. The reddish overall color hinted at tom yum paste, and reminded me of Thai food in Malaysia where everything is tom yum flavored: spaghetti, pizza and who knows what else.
The chile basil duck was oily, sure, and full of spice. The onions and red pepper slices practically confit in the duck fat. Once again, they surprised me because chile basil stir-fries at most NYC Thai restaurants are on the mild side. I did request it hot, but you never know if your wishes will be granted.
The last time at Chao Thai our server asked how we liked the heat level after tasting a dish we’d ordered as hot. We said, “Oh, it’s good” to be agreeable. Then he smugly announced that it wasn’t actually the hot we ordered. The guy’s a tool. And the adjacent table of white folks who had just been commenting to him how their food was too hot? You’re ruining it for the rest of us.
I’ll never understand all the Sripraphai haters. Or maybe more so, the touters of newer, better Thai restaurants that never offer a credible substitute. I firmly believe the food at Woodside’s stalwart is still as good as ever. If anything, I appreciate their vast repertoire of curries. No need to cling to the red, green, panang canon.
Am-Thai, while also a Bangkok-style restaurant like Sripraphai, keeps it simple curry-wise, so I chose the greatest-hits green. Anticipating something soupy and blah, this rich and fiery tangle of bamboo shoots, tender eggplant and beef strips, completely exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t wait to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.
Being a lucky Brooklynite with a car in my household, when the Thai urges strikes I can bypass the immediate area and head to Queens where I know I’ll be happy. Am-Thai has now softened my stance on Brooklyn’s Thai food mediocrity. Next time I’m looking for Thai cuisine, I might just keep it local.
Am-Thai Chili Basil Kitchen * 359 McDonald Ave., Brooklyn, NY