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Nov 5, 2007 06:41 AM

Three Thai Dinners in One Weekend

Since I have Thai houseguests who do not like "farang" food, we did an intense Thai food search this past weekend. While my expectations are low, I did have some interesting experiences ranging from the poor to good.

Friday: Zabb (the one on East 13th Street) -- charming wait staff, excellent som tham (ask for it "phet phet"), very good pla rad prik, absolutely inedible penang curry. Sweet place, want it so much to succeed, they just need to work on their poor dishes or purge them from the menu.

Wondee Thai ( west side of 9th Avenue & 50-something Street): amazingly good meal of som tham (asked for phet phet, served phet phet) and pretty good yum plah duk foo -- the catfish was well cooked, but the mango salad base was way to sweet. Nice staff. Welcoming if busy atmosphere. The sticky rice, however, was weird. More like a congealed steamed rice. A strange disappointment in an otherwise good meal.

Tiny Thai (west side of 9th Avenue, around 50-something street): yikes -- how does this place even stay in business? Don't know what was worse: the service or the food. The menu itself is barely thai and the food... well: even though I asked for it phet phet and the waiter acknowledged understanding it had NO heat at all. When I asked for some "prik nam pla" to try to add heat to it myself, I was told that they had none. The first time that has ever happened to me in any Thai restaurant anywhere. Avoid!

Interested in see other folks' feedback on these or similar experiences. Still searching for the ultimate Thai food fix anywhere in NYC.

'wadee, krub....

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  1. Why oh why oh why oh WHY didn't you go to Sripraphai???

    7 Replies
    1. re: Brian S

      Sripraphai? Go there often (actually prefer Chao Thai in Elmhurst, though)... Still hoping against hope to find someplace in Manhattan so I do not have to deal with te dreaded #7 train.

      1. re: jaidee

        thanks for replying so fast. You can get to Sri pretty quickly by taking the E or F express to 74-Roosevelt and then either walking or taking the R train back a stop.

        1. re: Brian S

          This is a great trip tip to Sri. However, like the OP, let's try to dig out all the decent Thai places in Manhattan. We all know Sripraphai, but we don't all have the time to get there.

          Liked Zabb City too; are they still BYO? I liked their salads better than their curries. Have you tried Pam Real Thai?

          1. re: Gluttonous Prime

            Totally agree with GP that Zabb City's salads are far better than their curries. My two visits to Pam Real Thai were disastorous -- just not even close to Thai food. Bland, overcooked... ugh! Pongsri is better, and my experiences there have not been great.

            1. re: jaidee

              The Pongsri on West 23rd serves reasonable Thai food fairly consistently. However, I was there last week and had a baked, red curry seafood casserole that was simply out of this world.

              1. re: foodmonk

                Can anyone compare the Pongsri on W. 23rd with the one on E. 18th? I've only ordered from the latter (and that only at lunchtime), and while the ingredients were agreeably fresh, their curries were hopelessly over-sweetened and under-spiced despite specific contrary requests.

                I will say that Zabb City certainly isn't shy about upping the heat quotient, which is rare within my Manhattan Thai experiences. They do a decent Pad Kee Mao (i.e. drunken noodles), but I've been afraid to venture farther afield than that for fear of yet another afternoon soured by disastrous sweetness.

                I know it's not the most popular dish out there, but does any place make a decent sour curry outside of Queens?

                1. re: CalJack

                  I can't compare, but if you ask at the 23rd St. location, they will bring you a set of condiments that includes hot dried peppers and a red pepper/vinegar sauce.

    2. Wow, you're brave -- personally, i'd be scared to take any of my Thai friends to any Manhattan Thai place, because i think all the Manhattan Thai joints are pretty awful...

      That said, i've had some decent experiences at Prem-On on Houston, but not by ordering from the menu, but my asking them to serve me the staff meal or cook some simple authenthic stuff that's easy for them to make but not on the regular menu...i've also done the same thing at Jeeb (Orchard St) with occassional success...i liked Zaab City the first couple times i went, but then had a couple mediocre meals there and stopped going...

      If i was entertaining Thai houseguests in Manhattan and they didn't want farang food, i'd prob take them to either:
      a) Chinese places...most Thai's like Chinese food and while Bangkok has tons, Thai visitors to NYC might enjoy some regional Chinese options available in NYC that are less common in Bangkok (where the Chinese food is mostly either from the S/SE and/or a Thai/Chinese hybrid)...for example, i think a trip to Grand Sichuan would much more satisfying to them than a Manhattan Thai place....

      b) most of my Bangkok Thai friends love Japanese food...there are some insanely popular mid-priced chains in Bangkok and there are also some high-end places of widely varying quality...but i think NYC has BKK beat when it comes to the variety of Japanese food i'd consider taking them to Aburiya Kinnosuke or some of the various new ramen places or one of many fine sushi places like Ushi Wakamaru...

      Sidenote: after enduring many awful Manhattan Thai meals and many trips on the 7 train, i finally decided to solve this problem permanently and i actually moved to Bangkok, where i live now.

      1. Wondee Siam I think it's called. I like that too, go for a late lunch sometimes and try to get a table by the window. They do serve this completely useless and absolutely freezing pre-made green salad with lunch dishes, which they should stip doing, but the Thai food is good. Thai Market on Amsterdam and 107th is really a notch above and I've become somewhat addicted.

        4 Replies
        1. re: fgf

          I had dinners at ZABB City 3 times so far. I do agree that their salad, chicken basil (ground chicken as requested) are wonderful and their Panang Curry simply horrid.

          My new favorite, however, is Chao Thai in Elmhurst. Their kaprow is wonderful and Panang Curry very good. It also helps that Minang Asli (an Indonesian restaurant) is across the street, so we typically have food to go everytime we go to Elmhurst. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

          1. re: theskyflyer

            What do people think of Pam Real Thai? The crispy fish is good there...though we can never get real Thai spicy in Manhattan..

            1. re: diablofoodie

              we love it. the crispy anything (duck, pork) has usually been very good and very spicy.

              1. re: diablofoodie

                I had a HORRIBLE experience at Pam Real Thai in the summer and vow to never return. Service was atrocious, but the food was practically inedible.

          2. maybe this farang is baa nitnoy, but thai people coming here and only eating thai food is no different that an american going to thailand and insisting on eating at macdonalds or something. And im sure many of you would call that person the typical ugly american, but just happily accept the legitmacy of it in the other direction. whats the point? just stay home.
            That said the pongsri (the original as far as i know - used to onyl say pongsri in thai.. in english it just said thailand restaurant) on bayard and baxter used to have some of the most authentic tasting thai food i've ever ha outside thailand. I ahve not been there in a long time so i can't say for sure.... I also like Jasmine , tho nottotally "authentic", on the UES, and have had some good stuff from sa woy, also UES

            1. This may be a sort of stupid question, but what makes Thai food authentic besides being spicy? I've never been to Thailand or eaten with Thai individuals, so I don't know how to judge what I've eaten appropriately. I obviously know the difference between food with flavor and that without, but other than that, I'm at a loss.

              Also, as a vegetarian I almost always get veggie curry or some sort of eggplant/tofu dish, is there anything I'm missing that I must try from one of these restaurants. (Manhattan recommendations are preferred since I don't hit up Queens that often).

              2 Replies
              1. re: littlebites

                I think Frank Bruni's review of Sripraphai gives some idea (more than I could) of whay makes Thai food excellent, especially when he describes the duck salad.


                1. re: littlebites

                  this is sort of a big question, because there are so many different varieties of Thai food...but true: it's not only about being spicy/non-spicy...not all Thai dishes are spicy (and not all Thai people like their food insanely hot, though the average Thai definitely eats spicier food than the average NYer)...

                  One of the things that makes Thai food so wonderful is the blending of spicy/sweet/salty/sour that can occur within some individual dishes, especially when it's done by a great cook...and also choosing a selection of dishes that compliment each other with different proportions of spicy/sweet/salty/sour...when i'm dining w/ Thai friends they are often particular about which dish might compliment the other...or which kind of curry we should get w/ pork and which kind we should get w/ duck, etc...

                  As for veggie options in Manhattan, i'm not up to date w/ menus there since i moved to Bangkok (and in Manhattan i never order off the regular menu anyway)...if you eat some small amounts of seafood, you should try somtam (spicy papaya salad): it's usually made w/ some dried shrimp, but you can easily request it without...if you'd been in Bangkok a few weeks ago you would have been in luck, because there is a Chinese holiday where the Chinese here go veg for a week, and a lot of Thais follow suit: so all the street food in BKK's Chinatown was vegetarian...i had a great almost-Indian-tasting yellow curry w/ lots of coriander and tofu at a stand in a little alley, but i have no idea what its called...

                  But generally speaking, what makes Thai food in Manhattan so bad is that proportions are skewed so that they much much more sweet than normal and much less spicy than normal...

                  In Thailand, people have endless debates about which street stand or restaurant marinates their grilled chicken just right, or which somdam lady mixes the proportions of chili and syrup and lime just right...people also order their somdam to order (personally i ask for it less sweet but very spicy, and with a little bla-ra, which is rotten fish sauce, but without raw crab) regular Isaan place (a casual outdoor lunch spot) for example knows my preferences and that i also like lots of lime...

                  But even in Manhattan, i'd recommend chatting w/ the waiters and chefs and telling them you're interested in learning more and eating authentic stuff and that you are vegetarian and adventurous...the people at Prem-On are very nice, so you might try there...