One of my dearest friends Nana, who is currently living in Bangkok, and I were once talking about the Thai food in New York. What it lacked, she said, was the playfulness of authentic Thai cuisine.
It’s not that New York is lacking for Thai places. Like sushi restaurants, you can’t really walk more than a block without encountering at least four or five, but they’re all kind of the same, serving the same mediocre food that people come to expect with consistency the way they expect to order a Big Mac at McDonald’s.
I imagine the typical conversation that leads up to dinner at one of these places goes something like this:
Guy #1: What do you feel like eating?
Guy #2: I dunno… I’ve kinda been craving Thai food.
Guy #1: Oh, yeah, me too. Let’s do that.
Guy #2: Okay.
[They happen to be standing in front of a Thai restaurant, so they go in. They order pad Thai and Singhas and talk about whatever straight guys talk about.]
But then, of course, there is Sripraphai. I’d long heard of this distant, mythologized place like it was Shangri-la. All the way out in Woodside, Queens (it took me about 45 minutes on the R from 8th Street), it’s worth the trip and probably (I’m just gonna say it) the best Thai in New York.
I was editing a video I shot for my fashion designer friend, Chrissy, so she joined me and Courtney as well as our two handsome male companions Mike (back from Israel for the summer) and Sami. I normally hate eating with people who have dietary restrictions (Courtney doesn’t eat beef and Sami doesn’t eat pork), but we still had plenty of options and Courtney was willing to risk some stomach pains for the experience (my kind of girl!)
For me, the best thing we had was the crispy Chinese watercress salad with shrimp, squid and chicken. Every bite was a bit of a delightful surprise. Sometimes, I got tangy citrus from lime, sometimes fragrant freshness from cilantro, sometimes mint, combined with distinctive salty and spicy tastes. It was a carnival of different colors, textures, and tastes.
We also had something called boo doo, a fermented fish sauce, from the south of Thailand that is mixed with rice to create a dish called khao yum. It came to the table with a mound of rice surrounded by little piles of lemon grass, scallions and other things and you pour the boo doo over everything and mix it all together. Very tasty.
Other notable dishes: fried fish topped with chili sauce and sauteed pork with chili and basil (this was recommended by NY Mag, but we substituted beef for the pork.)
For dessert, we opted for classic mango and sticky rice and while they were out of most desserts, we lucked out with a coconut confection whose name escapes me. They were warm, mini-muffin-shaped cakes made from coconut milk, I think and had a warm gooey center. I’ve been dreaming about them ever since.
64-13 39th Ave., Queens, NY
nr. 64th St.