Shovel Time: Kitchen 79
That there are so many Queens Thai restaurants that one can focus exclusively on the super-authentic and semi-authentic is an amazing thing. Brooklyn Thai was kind of a struggle in comparison. My sensibilities are still so offended by Joya on Court Street that when I hear that commercial where people travel to the Upper East Side from Pennsylvania to eat at “the Jaiya restaurant” my head always jerks. But enough of my petty culinary grudges.
Kitchen 79 plays both sides, super and semi, with a slant towards pleasing others—and the surrounding neighborhood, which is not particularly Thai. No one will snicker if you order pad thai or ask for chopsticks. You can also ask for a caddy of chile flakes and chile-spiked condiments to doctor your food to your salty-sour-spicy liking, Thai-style, plus you will be taken seriously, not merely humored if you say you like hot food, which is sadly now Sripraphai’s M.O.
Which audience this newish restaurant that took over Arunee’s old spot is aiming for isn’t fully clear. The interior is all sleek black-and-white with a bar that’s still non-functional (BYOB while you can) and contains gothic Lolita meets steampunk flourishes like a clock topped by what I think is a ram’s head and featuring a faucet “pouring” liquid in a changing rainbow of colors.
I’ve eaten there enough times (thrice in person–and am waiting for delivery this very second) to determine that it’s safer to pick dishes that sound more traditional. Salads have been consistently pleasing (I haven’t ventured into the soups yet, but have a good feeling about them) while more ambitious dishes, some crossing the $20 mark, reach too far.
I don’t like seeing baby corn, carrots and cauliflower florets, for instance. It was the crispy onions in the description that sold me on the tamarind duck, which was a little overcooked and too sweet with a sticky glaze that tasted more Chinese-American. Speaking of, I just noticed crab Rangoon called geoy hor cheese on the lunch-only menu, so you know what I’ll be eating next time.
The stewed pork knuckle in a classic pad ka prao (chile and basil) preparation, though, was gooey in a good way–and spicy just as requested.
A light, citrusy seafood salad of mussels and grilled shrimp and squid, thick with lemongrass and celery leaves? Yes.
Yum sam gluer grob, which combines battered squid and shrimp with fried pork and cashews? More emphatically, yes. This salad is richer and does that fresh-meets-fried thing that Thai food excels at.
The profusion of lettuce leaves in the salads is all-American, really, and I’m not sure if broccoli belongs in a pile of drunken noodles. Neither touch qualifies as a buzzkill exactly; they’re just tiny representations of Kitchen 79’s tweaks.
Kitchen 79 * 37-70 79th St., Jackson Heights, NY