Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Amazing Thai at Sripraphai

It's been almost a year since I first discovered real thai food in Woodside, Queens. During my first trip to Sripraphai (prounounced SEE-PRA-PIE), I tried one of the papaya salads and ate a pepper so spicy my mouth burned the rest of the night. I'm happy to report I'm still trying new things and Sri has been able to keep it just as interesting, even without a scorched tongue to prove it.

Tonight our friends Adib, Kelly and Marie joined us for their first Sri experience. The best part about having a bunch of people gathering at Sri is being able to order most of my favorite stuff. I've learned that the biggest problem with trying new things here is that it very easily gets added to the "must have" list, and now I want to order it all on every visit (which usually is just not reasonable). I think the trick to every dish here is balance -- lots of cucumber to cut down on the spice (which they usually pack a lot of), tons of fragrant mint and cilantro to add freshness to the meat, ginger strips add a layer of clean to every bite. Throw all of this on top of some coconut rice and I am in Thai food heaven.

Okay, first, the decor here is not much to look at. We asked to sit in the garden, which is actually really pretty when its nice out (fountain, lots of flowers, tall fences) but it was a half an hour wait just to eat out there. So we settled for a nice window spot instead.

Sri has their balancing act down even when it comes to the Thai iced teas. They aren't too sweet but they certainly don't need anything added to them. This place has definitely spoiled me in terms of Thai iced teas as I never used to be very picky about them, and now I'll dump out any Thai iced teas for being too bitter or overly sweet in comparison.

To start, we ordered four different appetizers. First, one of my must-haves: the duck salad. I love how the soft duck meat mixes so well with a mound of cilantro, ginger, onions, tomatoes, and who knows what else they've got hiding in there. It's also on the spicy side -- always keeps me coming back for more.

My second must-have appetizer: sweet sausage. I've never been much of a sausage person, but the first time I tried this I was hooked. I have no idea how they make it so sweet and addictive. Of course, its mixed in with the signature fresh herbs and veggies (cilantro, carrots, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.) that just round it out perfectly.

For the other two apps, we got the steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings (which I didn't even try -- I'm not a fan of shrimp) and I think the hot and sour tom-yum soup with shrimp and mushrooms (I only tried a sip of the broth because unfortunately I don't like mushrooms either!) Those at our table who actually do enjoy shrimp and mushrooms really enjoyed it. We got a big bowl and they polished it off.

Before we were even done with the appetizers, on came all five of the dinners, which we all shared. It was family style madness! I think Rob was getting overwhelmed just by looking at it all.

I ordered the crispy pork with basil and chili because it is the absolute must-have of all the must-haves. I have no idea how they are able to give it such a perfectly crunchy bite. The texture is just something I haven't experienced elsewhere. Otherwise, its a pretty straightforward dish -- you get exactly what you ordered, along with a couple of spicy peppers to kick things up. I love to eat this with a lot of coconut rice, all the balances of the sweet and salty and spicy at the same time make the soft rice and crispy pork a perfect balancing act.

Rob ordered the red curry with chicken. At this point I've tried a lot of Sripraphai's curries -- panang, masaman -- and all are fantastic. They give generous amounts of chicken, peppers, bamboo shoots and other goodies in the flavorful coconut milk-based curry. If you can't finish it here (and we didn't) it's always great to bring it home and mix it up with tilapia or whatever else we're cooking up later in the week. It's one of those leftovers that never gets bland or tastes less than stellar the day after.

We also tried to drunken noodle with ground beef. Rob and I can't remember if we've tried this before or not (I guess its not too memorable?), but its still very good. The noodles are a little softer than I prefer, and if I'm going to be eating carbs I'd rather it be the coconut rice!

There were also two other chicken dishes that I didn't have too much of -- chicken seems so much less exciting when compared to pork and duck. The staple chicken-onion-ginger-scallion dish is something you see on every menu at every Thai food place, but of course no one does it up like Sri. When everything is this fresh tasting, it makes a huge difference. The other chicken dish had more of the drunken-style noodle and tons of fresh cilantro on top. I have a feeling I'll be enjoying this one straight out of the fridge tomorrow night.

As always is the case at Sripraphai, it was a fun night. Like the Thai food itself, life always seems so well-balanced when great friends gather to share a great meal.

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