Sripraphai: am I missing something?
We went there for the first time and I was underwhelmed. It was certainly good, certainly "authentic", but...
I thought the crispy catfish papaya salad was sort of one-dimensional. The fried catfish just tasted like fried taro, not a trace of fish flavor or texture. Is it supposed to be that way? The rest of the salad was very fresh, fishy and tangy, but that's about it. We've had a better version of this sort of thing at Chao Thai in Elmhurst and a far better, more complex, downright transporting version at Zabb in Jackson Heights.
Similar story with the crispy pork with chili and basil: unquestionably fresh ingredients, some bright flavors, but Zabb's version had more to it: more heat, more sweet, more sour punch, and meat so textured and rich I initially thought it was duck.
A noodle dish from the list of specials, with cubes of stewed pork in a northern curry gravy and chopped vegetables, was just dull. It would have been disappointing even at a neighborhood takeout.
An appetizer of mussels with basil was very good. Big, tender, flavorful mussels in a broth full of lemongrass and basil flavor, and they came to life with the green minced-pepper condiment. Still, it was steamed mussels. I got the feeling I'd get the same results at home with little effort.
Spicing was a problem too, across the board. The four of us are all keen on heat, made it very clear that we wanted the spicy dishes done Thai-hot, and what we got was mild-to-medium at best. The other couple we were with sent another chili-basil dish back to the kitchen and it came back both hotter and more flavorful, which surprised me because I thought that sort of doctoring after the fact wouldn't go well, but the result still was well short of the riot of colliding flavors Zabb mustered on our two visits.
Did we order wrong? I've seen at least the catfish salad listed among the highly recommended dishes before, but did we otherwise go astray?
I've never experienced that sort of underwhelming meal at Sri, and I've been going there regularly for ten or eleven years. Not saying i've never had a bad/off/less-than-stellar dish, but never had a full meal of letdowns (oddly, the mussel dish you described is one that i didn't like either time i tasted it here).
wouldn't say you ordered "wrong," but would note that the crispy catfish people tend to recommend is the one with a watercress base, not papaya. that wouldn't really address your feelings about the fish itself -- which is, in fact, very loofah-like in texture as served at Sri.
An off night? perhaps. Expectations of astral-projection on your part? perhaps -- and understandable, given the general tone among posters here. I'd give it another shot if i were you -- trying some of the curries or other dishes you didn't get around to.
you may just have had a bad day, which they do have, when some dishes, especially noodles and stir-fries, taste dull and muddy.
Also, the best salad at sri is the crispy watercress. It would not surprise me that many of the yum or salad type offerings are better at Zabb, because Zabb specializes in that type of thai food.
I like Zabb, but find that their non-issan stuff is not as good as sri's. So for a more all-around meal, I go to sri. Anything with the green mango sauce is usually good, as is the pork and string bean curry.
But i do feel that they have been more inconsistent as of late. Every meal there used to be great, but now I have a dud meal every once and a while. Come to think of it, I haven't been there in two months and our last meal was decent, but not great and some dishes were dull. Downhill alert? Not sure, I've thought that before and then been blown away by my next meal.
Give it another try and then decide. If you still don't like it, stick with Zabb.
I've been a regular at Sri for over 5 years and never had an underwhelming experience either. I wouldn't say that you ordered wrong, sounds like you simply enjoy Zabb's food more.
As for spicing, I find that odd that your party had to send things back to be "thai-hot" because I typically have the reverse problem at Sri, when I order mild it's still very spicy. I have to remind myself that it's Thai-mild, not American mild.
Could be they had an off night if you do decide to go back I too recommend you try the Crispy Watercress Salad.
The strongest dishes at Sri are curries, IMO. I live a block from the place and eat there at least once a month even on busiest weekend nights, and they never disappoint. Flavors could vary a notch or two, but the food is still very good. My favorites are penang curry and green curry with duck. I also love their softshell crab appetizer that comes with green mango salad and stewed tendon soup. I also like their whole fish.
I've been to Zabb 3 times maybe and everytime was underwhelmed so I stopped going there (It's just a matter of convenience and preference, not to diss Zabb).
wow, I think that the best dishes at both places are on the salad menu - that may be because what excites me in thai cuisine comes into fullest play there. tho I really like some of Sri's curries, as well as their khao soi. zabb seems better at noodles. One day I took home the watercress salad and the softshell salad from Sri - it was really amazing how different they were as well as how good. great stuff.
Now, who does a good thai whole fish dish? Its been a number of years since Ive had a good one.
i live LESS than a block away, and in my 5+ years here have probably only eaten at Sri about 100 times ... i've been careful not to burn myself out just because it's right here. i haven't enjoyed my meals there as much in the past couple of years, but i'm not sure if that's just because i don't go as much and have lost a taste for it, or what (i cook at home a lot more, and now find it often to be overwhelmingly salty).
that said, these are my go to standards there that have rarely, if ever, dissapointed:
- green curry duck (or green curry chicken if you prefer, but less so)
- panang beef or pork
- crispy watercress salad (i always have them leave out the chicken)
- moo pad prig khing (pork & long beans)
- fish cake appetizer
- pan fried mussels
- kra tiem (pork with garlic sauce, or order it with shrimp)
i am almost always happy with:
- soft shell crabs
- crispy pork & chinese broccoli (tends to be super-salty though)
- tom gha gai (although i usually get it without the chicken and with tofu)
i've always been disappointed in:
- shrimp cakes (tasteless to me)
- noodle dishes
there's a few other things i've tried and been somewhat indifferent to.
i think it's worth trying again, but you might simply prefer the preparations at other Thai places.
I used to love the green curry with duck, too. Last time I had it, I ordered it medium and it tasted coconut-sweet, just like all the Thai restaurants that cater to the Amerian palate. Same with the crispy pork with chili and basil. Actually, only the salads retained the spiciness that I grew accustomed to years ago. Is the trend to underspice at Sri now taht they've expanded, or was it just an off-night of underspicing?
I've been going to Sri for six years, and find they are generally as good(and spicy) as they ever were. They are most likely to be somewhat off on a really crowded night. As for Zabb, I've probably been there fifteen times, and find it to be extremely inconsistant. I've had some really good meals there and some really nothing meals.
If I am right in identifying the noodle dish you ordered (khanom jeen nam ngiaw, on the specials menu as something like "Chiang Mai noodles"), then I agree wholeheartedly that it is very disappointing. It is fairly new to the menu, and I was excited to see it. I'm no expert, but it wasn't anywhere CLOSE to what I think this dish (which I learned about here on chowhound, and ate a lot in northern Thailand) should be. The Zabb version isn't great either, but is much closer to the point. I don't know why Sripraphai is serving this.
Not entirely sure what you mean by catfish papaya salad--I think you just mean fluffy catfish salad, not papaya?--but by its nature, I don't think the catfish flavor often comes through much. It's more of a textural thing, like eating insulation (and I mean that in the good way). But done correctly, this can be a really good salad. One friend of mine really liked Sri's broiled catfish salad much better - might want to try that. I am not as huge a fan of the watercress salad as most here.
I think curries and salads based on grilled/bbqed items (bbq beef salad; moo manao, which I think translates on the menu as pork with chilies and lime; pla goong or shrimp salad--though Zabb's is better) are Sri's formidable strength; I've had more inconsistent results with stir-fries and noodles.