More Thai For Brooklyn

Joining the ranks of Thai, party restaurants like Sea in Brooklyn; Qi Thai Grill opens up its third location today in Williamsburg to bring Thai street food to the neighborhood. "Brooklyn is such a center of innovation, cuisine and style, so we knew we wanted a Qi here,” said owner Ahm Bopit. “There is profound appreciation for artisan and world cuisine in Brooklyn that makes it an ideal place for us to serve some of our favorite dishes, which we eat at food stalls in Thailand.” 

Chef Sripraphai Tipmanee and dessert master Pichet Ong have contributed to this Brooklyn project to serve up kin lehnn (small plates), and pihng yahng (grilled dishes). This includes pork-heavy plates of cilantro-marinated kor mooh yahng (grilled pork jaw), mooh dang mooh grohb (cinnamon pork and crispy pork belly), and kee mao kah mooh (spicy pork trotter) with chili jam.  

They also offer an array of signature cocktails like the blend of gin, vodka, star anise, ginger, yuzu, Thai iced tea, lime and guava juice, and is titled after Bangkok’s official name, which is also the world’s longest city name: Krungthepmahanakhon Amornrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat

Ratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.

You can just ask for the Bangkok. Or, with even less syllables, the Chi’, which has gin, Midori, and cucumber puree.

No meal with Ong behind the wheel would be complete without a sweet. Here they serve his pumpkin crème brulee with coconut Chantilly cream, and a banana-date upside down cake with beer ice cream. This, and everything else, can be had under a four-foot Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, which is perched on a waterfall in the center of Qi’s two-tiered, two-hundred-seat dining room. Which, incidentally, is not like a Thai street cart at all. 

Thai to Wait For: Pok Pok Ny Continues to Wow

If you were biding your time to try Andy Ricker’s famous Pok Pok Ny until the hype, and the lines, died down, you bet wrong. With today’s two-star review by New York Times writer Pete Wells, Pok Pok is still all anyone can talk talk about. Who ever thought Thai food would be all the rage?

While the ubiquitous fusion food trend tends to strike Asian cuisine the hardest, Ricker’s straightforward menu doesn’t cross any boundaries. His solid Thai cuisine first gained a following in Portland, where he opened the original Pok Pok in 2005. There, he went on to open Pok Pok Noi, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and soon he will add another restaurant to the line up. That’s not all, in 2011 he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast, and this year he debuted Pok Pok Wing in the Lower East Side before opening Pok Pok Ny in Brooklyn. The people have been queuing up since.  

Of course, despite the hype, Pok Pok Ny isn’t perfect. Wells writes in his review:

There are other ways in which Pok Pok Ny hasn’t synchronized its watches yet. An order went missing for ages, then showed up in duplicate. And one night I ran into two or three dishes whose flavors seemed to be napping, including a fried egg salad and even a papaya salad. I left downcast, humming Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?

No, it’s not. In my next visits I was thrilled to taste more remarkable dishes than the table could hold: prawns in smoky noodles simmered with soy and ginger in a clay pot; an eggy pancake of juicy, sweet mussels with garlic chives; a stunningly complex pork laap. Compared with other pork laaps I’ve had, this one seemed to have eight or nine extra dimensions. The memory of it will be enough to keep me docile next time I wait for a table.

In the meantime, if you want to good, authentic Thai food without the wait, try Zaab Elee, which not only is authentic and delicious, but inexpensive. For a modern twist on Thai, chef Hong Thaimee does some amazing things with papaya and lobster at her East Village restaurant Ngam. And, if you really want to go the extra mile (literally), go to Queens and eat at chef Duangjai Thammasat’s Ayada in Elmhurst or Sripraphai in Woodside.

Industry Insiders: Vinegar Hill House’s Jean Adamson, Sam Buffa, & Brian Leth

Jean Adamson and Sam Buffa met while both were working at Freemans. Their relationship gave way to sharing a love of the food and aesthetic that formed Vinegar Hill House. Sam is also partners with Taavo Somer in the FSC Barbershop. Six months into their Brooklyn venture, the Vinegar Hill House team found Brian Leth, the chef de cuisine since April, formerly of Prune and Allen & Delancey. Leth excites patron with his locally sourced menu with ethnic flairs.

How did you start in the business? Jean Adamson: I started cooking in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had a fascination with cooking and went to the French Culinary Institute. Then I worked for Keith McNally for nine years at Balthazar and Pastis, but it was too easy there for me. I was just expediting the process, so I said, “I have to get out.” I started consulting for Frank Prisinzano of Frank, Supper and Lil’ Frankie’s. I helped him standardize things. I was getting their recipes in order so that in each restaurant everyone was doing the same thing. A friend then called me to say this guy Taavo Somer was looking for a chef at Freeman’s. Their consistency was really poor, and I’m good at producing large amounts of food at once. They were transferring into the first expansion so they needed a day-to-day chef to run everything. So I worked there for three years, and that’s where I met Sam. Sam Buffa: I was helping Taavo with the basic construction of their expansion. At the same time, the space at the front of the alley became available and I proposed the barbershop idea to Taavo. It’s still sort of my day job. Jean and I, from day one, have had similar interests. I always wanted to open a restaurant but had never worked in the field. I always liked the idea of building a restaurant.

How did you come across the space for Vinegar Hill House? JA: When Sam and I met, we were showing off the cool neighborhoods we knew in Brooklyn. I was living in Park Slope at the time, and the next day my landlord came to me and said the carriage house was becoming available in Vinegar Hill. It’s the house behind where the restaurant is now. I told him that I wanted it and I waited a year for it. SB: I told her to ask him about commercial spaces. Once we got the space it was like, “Oh shit now we have to open a restaurant.”

So you did. JA: When we told people about the location they were like, “No way.” When you’re milling around on a bicycle you just end up here. We opened last November after Sam designed the restaurant. We call the downstairs space “the den” and people rent it out for private events. I was the chef but was looking for a way to segue out. Then this gem, Brian, walked in the door. He’s changed the landscape of the restaurant. I always intended on being a local farms and local produce restaurant and he made that happen. He also wanted Brian wanted a Vita-Prep. It’s amazing watching the stuff he makes with it. Brian Leth: I’m a puree guy.

Where have you worked before? BL: I started cooking in New Mexico. A friend of a friend helped steer me towards a job at Prune and I learned a lot there. Then, I worked at Blue Hill and Café des Artistes. I was at Allen & Delancey for about a year. JA: Brian has a broad spectrum of food knowledge from having worked at so many places.

Are you already thinking about the next project? SB: I think its always on our mind. JA: We want to be solid here before the next place.

Something people don’t know about you? JA: That I’m nice. SB: I used to race motorcycles BL: I’m a serious Scrabble player

What are your favorite places? JA, SB, BL: Hotel Delmonico and Rusty Knot.

How about restaurants? BL: Ippudo, Prime Meats, and wd-50. JA, SB: Sripraphai for Hawaiian pizzas, Roberta’s, The Smile, Joe’s Shanghai for soup dumplings.

What’s on your favorite playlist right now? JA, SB: Lady Gaga and talk radio. BL: The Replacements and Steely Dan.

Inspired by Woodside: Thai Fish Curry

Last weekend I got a hankering for Thai food. I easily convinced my boyfriend to make the trek to Woodside for the ultimate: Sripraphai. Too bad everyone else in the whole damn city had the same idea. There were a hundred people outside. Hipsters, Thai families, locals in the know. Too hungry to wait, we headed up Roosevelt Avenue and had an amazingly flavorful meal at Zabb Zabb that quenched my thirst for Thai fire. Or maybe not completely quenched, because I’m still thinking about those beautiful steamed mussels with chili and herbs. And the crispy duck salad. Oh man, the crispy duck salad.

It’s funny; the more I have Thai food, the more I seem to crave it. All week I’ve been waking up with an itch for that addictive combo of coconut milk, curry, chili, and lemongrass. Queens is a bit of a haul for me, but fortunately I have this awesome Thai curry recipe that’s totally satisfying, easy to make, and fun to play around with. It was based on a recipe from MediterrAsian.com, but I’ve tweaked it to suit my own taste, and you should do the same. You can vary the protein — try shrimp, crab, chicken, or tofu. Koh hai cha-roen ar-harn!

Thai Fish Curry

● 1 1/2 tbl canola oil ● 1/2 tbl sesame oil ● Half a large red pepper, julienned ● 16-20 green beans, topped and tailed and halved ● 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped ● 1-3 tsp thinly sliced jalapeños, to taste ● 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped lemongrass ● 1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger ● 2 tsp turmeric ● 1 1/2 cups coconut milk ● 3/4 cup water ● 3 tbl fish sauce ● 2-3 tsp brown sugar, to taste ● 2-3 tsp chili powder, to taste ● 1 cup jasmine rice ● 2 6-8 oz firm white fish fillets (tilapia works well), each cut into large chunks ● 2 tbl freshly squeezed lime juice ● 1 tbl finely chopped fresh basil ● 1 tbl finely chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the red pepper and green beans for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss in the garlic, jalapeños, lemongrass, ginger, and turmeric and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add the coconut milk, water, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili powder and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 8 minutes. As the curry simmers, cook the rice. Add the fish (spoon the curry sauce over the fish to coat) and simmer, covered, for 8 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the flavors to your liking. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and basil. Serve over rice. Makes 2-4 servings, depending on how hungry you are.

Soft-Shell Hard Sell: A Sandwich for Late Summer

This morning, New York City had that hint of fall. It was muggy still, but surprisingly cool, and the sidewalks of Park Slope were littered with the browned leaves of the London plane trees. I’m not ready to give up on summer yet. Soft-shell crabs always taste like the season to me, and though it’s getting deep into August, they’ve still got them fresh in Chinatown. (Nestled in straw and stacked on ice, they’re only $16.25 for a half dozen.) My favorite New York soft-shell comes from Woodside’s Sripraphai, deep fried with shredded green mango. The sharpness of the mango is a perfect counterpoint to the richness of the crab and its batter. They do it so well I’m not going to try and compete. Instead, I’m lining up soft-shell sandwiches. My dad has a simple recipe that never fails.

Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich Pat crabs dry with a paper towel. Put some all-purpose flour and salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge the crabs on both sides. Chop up two cloves of garlic. Heat olive oil in a pan. Get the pan hot, but not so hot that the oil starts to smoke. Toss in the crabs and garlic and stand back quickly in case the oil starts firing back. Cook the crabs three to four minutes per side — you’re looking for a crisp, browned surface. Serve on onion rolls, one crab per roll.