Monday, September 10, 2007

Sripraphai (64-13 39th Ave., Woodside, NY)

I cannot tell you how many times I tried to persuade my friends last summer to make a detour to Woodside on our way back from Rockaway Beach to try the famed Thai restaurant, Sripraphai. Several articles I had read spoke of the explosive flavors, the reasonable prices, and insisted that any Thai food lover must go there as soon as possible. I was delighted when Court suggested that we venture out to Queens to visit the restaurant and go bowling with our friends who live in the area. We made the mistake of driving through horrendous traffic to get to the restaurant (I highly recommend taking the 7 train), but were rewarded with a roomy table and friendly faces waiting for us beneath a looming big screen TV. The surroundings were modern Asian and not too distracting, and are by no means one of the reasons to visit this gem.

Fortunately, we went with seasoned regulars who pointed out their favorite dishes. I had read about the thick coconut Penang curry, but had not heard of the amazing appetizer of fried watercress, squid, shrimp and chicken ($9) that our friend pointed out on the menu. This was one of the best dishes that I have been introduced to in a long while. The small strips of fried watercress perfectly offset the spicy salad of marinated shrimp, squid, and pounded chicken breast. It was lightly dressed in a peanut sauce, with strong flavors of chili and lime. I will admit to a penchant, rather a fixation, on citrus, and the lime in this salad made quite an impression. I wish I had thought to take a picture of this dish, but will definitely not make that mistake on my return trip. The other appetizer that was recommended to us wasthe ground pork with ginger, chili, peanut & lemon juice ($6.50). It is a cold salad, and comes with the added delight of a transparent mushroom that I had never seen before. At first glance we all thought it might be tripe because of its white fibrous texture, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a mushroom that brought to mind the lovely translucent sea corals that I always want to reach out and touch at the aquarium. The mushroom had a mild water-based flavor, and set off the heat from the chili lime pork and red onion quite nicely. I loved both of the starters and think next time I could make a meal out of just that.

We moved on to the entrees and chose just three, and believe me, it took restraint: sautéed drunken noodles with beef, chili & basil leaves ($7), fried whole red snapper with with chili & basil sauce($17.50), and the sautéed mixed veggies in a oyster sauce ($7). The drunken noodles (one of my standbys at Thai restaurants) were very good — not too oily, and the noodles and marinated beef were both very flavorful. The veggies we ordered mostly to offset the heat of all the others dishes, which all had the asterisk marking them as “spicy.” If you want to order these dishes, but are wary of too much heat, you can ask for the more mild version—“medium” was a nice balance of moderate heat. The veggies came with a medley of miniature corn cobs, cauliflower, snow peas,and green bell pepper. It was nice to have something mild to complement the spicy dishes, but I probably would not bother ordering this one next time.

Whenever I eat at an Asian restaurant, particularly Thai or Chinese, I always try and order the fried whole fish. There is something about that dish, regardless of the accompanying sauce, that I am wild about. I love the tender crispiness of the fish skin and the light flaky meat that pulls away from the bone so beautifully (when it is cooked well). So it was odd that of all the dishes, this was my least favorite. However, it was certainly the most beautiful, covered in sliced sweet red peppers, basil, nestled into the garnish of greens beneath it. The fish was flavorful, but had been overcooked by a few precious minutes and was incredibly tough. I kept eating it, hoping that I would find some hidden section of tender flesh, but there was none to be had.

As we were getting geared up for a long night of beer and bowling, we were not interested in too much dessert, but we did walk over to the refrigerator that holds all of the pre-made sweets, and chose a silken coconut custard. It was not too sweet and was incredibly refreshing after our spicy meal. On the way out, I stopped in the prepared food section and grabbed some peanuts covered in brown sugar and sesame seeds, which reminded me of a less saccharine version of my grandmother’s heavenly peanut brittle($1.50). Sadly, it was league night at AMF 34th Ave lanes in Queens (69-10 34th Ave), so we had to make due with shooting pool next door at the Golden Q. That of course means that I will have to venture back to Woodside to bowl and better yet, have another meal at Sripraphai, where I will attempt to learn the secret of the delicious fried watercress salad.


Anonymous said...

Bowling and awesome Thai food? I'm shamelessly going to copy your idea - my friends and I are heading there this weekend!

j said...

thanks for paying just homage to an incredible place! i took your advice and had an amazing meal!