Sripraphai is one of the few restaurants that I’ve eaten at so many times that I can detect subtle differences in dishes on each visit. I’m not that astute normally. I know some believe that the quality—and spice level—has decreased proportionately with the increasing size of room, but I don’t tend to agree. However, I did wonder how the food would translate to their random (to me, at least—maybe staff or owners live nearby? It doesn’t appear to be a Thai-heavy community either, but more Italian, middle eastern and Indian based on businesses we passed) Long Island location that had been teasing me on their homepage for what feels like a year.
So, my Halloween day plan to finally try the Red Hook Ikea that’s only 1.9 miles from my apartment was shifted at the last minute to Hicksville, just a few towns over from Williston Park, home of the brand new Sripraphai branch. Brooklyn Ikea can wait.
Yes, there was a crowd out front around 8pm, though not nearly as dense as the eaters that swarm 39th Ave. All resemblances ended there. For one, there was a parking lot adjacent to the stand alone building (we still had to street park). And more importantly, a bar with a few tall chairs on the short side near the front window that were completely open. A cocktail (ok, a Singha) while waiting for a table? How civilized. Oh, and we discovered that they also take reservations and credit cards (though the machine was broken). After only a few sips of beer a two-top became available.
The menu appears to be the same, at least the same as the relatively compact spiral bound one with small photos of nearly every single dish that was new on my last Sripraphai visit. Some of the servers were the same too. Unsurprisingly, the clientele was a little more white and suburban with way more rambunctious kids than I’m accustomed to seeing in Queens (not so, in Brooklyn). Large Chinese families were the second most represented group, which meant just about everyone was eating with chopsticks. Not a single table within eyeshot was lacking a plate of pad thai and another of fried calamari (the child-pleaser of choice, it seemed).
It wasn’t clear to me if the diners were there due to Sriphraphai’s reputation or if they just wanted to try the new Thai restaurant in their neighborhood. I would say a majority were familiar with the establishment. We got nods of approval from our server, ”very popular dish” with our orders of crispy watercress salad and chinese broccoli with crispy pork, which was unusual considering we’ve had this same waiter a million times before and he’s never acknowledged our ordering prowess.
Determined to branch out from my usual picks, I still had to glom onto a few control dishes. My initial assessment was that the crispy watercress salad was minutely different. I’m not sure if it was because I was looking for aberrations and minute tweaks would’ve slipped past me in the original location, but visually the liquid that pools at the bottom of the white plate was more orange than usual though not spicier as the color indicated. And nearly everything we ate seemed a touch saltier. The big difference was the watercress clusters. They weren’t warm, as if they’d been fried earlier, though not soggy either. If anything the batter was crunchier and more substantial. There was a lacy delicateness lacking even though the overall flavor of the salad was almost identical to the version I’ve come to love. Only a nitpicker would have a problem with any of this.
Nine times out of ten we order crispy pork with chile and basil instead of the fatty strips as a mere accent to Chinese broccoli. This is a good dish to pretend that you’re getting in some healthy greens while also getting a dose of pork skin.
I’ve never had a whole fish at Sriphraphai so this whole snapper with chile and basil was a radical departure. This is why we didn’t order our usual crispy pork; the fish became our substitute meat. You can also choose from a small or large trout. Another fried dish, obviously what I enjoy about much of this food is the contrast between crunchy and soft (the only downside being the inevitable leftovers lose any crispness). The white flesh stayed moist and the skin was wonderfully crackly and bubbled. Also, the light heat was offset by a touch of sweetness.
Though the balance was skewed with one of my favorite curries of duck, bamboo shoots and Thai eggplant. Once again, the sauce was more orange when normally this conglomerate is more swampy and served in a bowl. The flavors are usually mysterious and dark more like a deep body of water far from land, this was sunny like a tropical lagoon. I’m not saying I didn’t like this dish, but knowing the original it’s hard not to compare.
The most striking difference was the inexplicable and very fleeting likeness to the preseasoned pork tenderloins from Costco that I don’t like because they have a barely discernible pastrami flavor. This duck had a tenderloin/pastrami undercurrent that I think might be attributable to cumin. Cumin is fine when it blends into the scenery. It personally creeps me out a bit when it stands out, though. That’s just me. There is definitely a different curry paste being made (or maybe not being made in-house, which is the issue) at this location.
Thankfully, they have replicated one of my favorite aspects that you don’t always find in Thai restaurants: the refrigerated cases and metal shelves full of snacks. I also like that the desserts have glamor shots and names in the menu now, which cuts down on awkward browsing in the busiest part of the restaurant (at the original location—here, they’re off to the side). I took a plastic container of pumpkin custard squares to go and being Halloween, this parting sweet was fitting. Good as these creamy cubes are, I still felt a little deprived that I never got any fun sized candy bars on this holiday.
For being a new operation, service was efficient and good natured (though similarly harried and forgetful as the original location), and the food was still many times more enjoyable than what exists in South Brooklyn. I’m never ever in Long Island (NJ is my suburb of choice) so it’s doubtful I’ll make a comparison visit in the near future. It’s nice knowing they’re there, though.
Sriphraphai * 280 Hillside Ave., Williston Park, NY