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Sripraphai Revisited -- Downhill?

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  • Simon Nov 30, 2008 08:02 PM
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Since returning to NY after a year in Asia (including 6 months in Thailand), i hadn't been back to Sripraphai til last week...

While the meal was better than anything Thai in Manhattan, it contained some pretty deep disappointments...but i'll preface this by saying that Thai food is by far the cuisine i am most picky and exacting about...

-- somtam Thai...on the positive side, it was made w/o sugar (per my request)...but on the negative: a) it had only two (2!) of the tiny dried shrimps...literally two...b) most of the chilis were not chopped, but left whole...i asked the waitress about this and she said they don't chop the chilis because it's too spicy that way for most people and this way it's easier for them to avoid eating the chilis...huh??...then what was that whole convo we'd just had in Thai about how i wanted the somdam very very spicy, Thai-style, etc???...was tempted to send it back, but instead i just hacked up the chilis myself w/ fork and spoon...

-- tom yum kha moo...sour-spicy soup w/ stewed pork leg...i love pork cooked that way and hadn't had it in a while, but the soup was too sweet and not very spicy...

-- Southern-style curry...normally their hottest dish, but was mild despite the long convo in Thai about how everything should be real spice levels, etc...tasty, but too mild...

-- laab plaa duk...broiled catfish salad...one of my fav things on their menu and something which few restaurants do well, even in Thailand...decent, but too much rice flour and not enough fish meat...

-- shrimp w/ carmelized garlic...delicious...fresh...the only dish that was truly top-notch...

Overall, an enjoyable enough meal since i'd been miserable the last couple months masochistically eating Manhattan Thai food...but the faults were glaring...

but the real bummer was afterward: i got an order of supnormai (bamboo salad) and an order chicken w/ cashews to go, since i don't go to Queens very often and figured i'd be craving chilis the next day...the supnormai was fine...the chicken w/ cashews was so awful that i'm embarassed for the restaurant...when i ordered it, i'd asked for it to be made w/ red chili paste...the (very nice) waitress told me that the chef can't do that: that he could either make a chicken w/ basil and red chili paste, or a chicken w/ cashews and add some dried chilis...i found this odd, since chicken&cashews stir-fried up w/ a mess of red chili paste is a pretty standard and easy dish to make, one which i've eaten all over Thailand (and NY and LA, etc)...but i told her to make it anyway they wanted, as long as there were cashews and high spice levels involved...big mistake: what i found when i tried it later was something along the lines of an overcooked General Tso's Chicken...it did have some dried chilis in it, but was sickeningly sweet and tough and heavily breaded: it tasted like Crackerjacks that had been thrown in the fryer at a Chinese-American takeout shop...so bad that i threw most of it away...if i'd ordered that on my very first visit to Sripraphai, i would have never returned...

Could be that the normal chef was off that day (it was Thanksgiving) but i've decided to start hunting for other places in the neighborhood...

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  1. I think there were some recent posting asking a similar question to yours but as far as I can tell, Sripraphai is as good as always. I ate at Sripraphai last Friday and everything was great. In order to accommodate my guest, we asked that the spice level will be mild and it was actually more spicy than I expected. As for the whole chillies, I believe some dishes were always served with whole chillies. I never thought they were meant to be avoided. I eat them whole.
    I really can't explain the chicken with cashew. I have a theory though, that many authentic Asian restaurants in the city have General Tso'd Chicken-like items on their menu for the random clueless walk-ins. Sripraphai recently updated their menu, and resorted the items so that the menu will be easier to read. Maybe they didn't notice that their General Tso now has a much more prominent location on their menu? This is obviously pure speculation on my part.

    If you are looking for other Thai places in the area, Zabb, Chao are among several that are routinely recommended on the board. While most dishes are exactly the same, I find the overall experience to be a little off after the ownership change at Zabb. I ate at Chao once and it was a huge disappointment. But as evident from your recent visit to Sripraphai, I guess we shouldn't judge restaurants based on a single visit.

    Shrimp w/ carmelized garlic - Where is on the menu? I can't find it.

    9 Replies
    1. re: ow77

      I was there last Friday as well as it was good as ever. The flavors are crisp and bright and the spicing is assertive. This place is a gem.

      A few weeks back I saw some posts about Sri introducing lunch specials but I had no idea the entire menu had been reorganized until our visit. Gone is the family album of photographs of all the dishes. The main menu has also been replaced with an extended glossy paged version with smaller photos of each dish. It really does make sense - this way you don't have to flip back and forth.

      I'm not so sure about the resorting of dishes. I was used to the old order and knew exactly where to find my favorites . This time around it took us 3 times longer to make our selections. I'm sure after a few more visits we'll get used to it.

      Does anyone know if all the old items dishes made it over to the new menu? Have new ones been added.

      1. re: Bob Martinez

        I think they didn't take out anything off the menu and added all items from the old specials menu (the one with three soft shell crab dishes) and nothing else.

      2. re: ow77

        hi

        -- i didn't see shrimp w/ carmelized garlic on the regular menu but i'd had it in the past off their specials menu, and when i asked if they have it, the waitress said "of course we do"...

        -- re: chilies and somtam: in my experience, somtam is *always* made w/ the chilies chopped, mashed, or shredded into the salad, to more evenly spread the heat and flavor...to leave them in whole is just lazy and lame (it would be analogous to making an Italian red sauce and not chopping the garlic, but instead just tossing in whole cloves at the end)...

        1. re: Simon

          Can anyone confirm if Sri mashes their som tum? I never really paid enough attention to the finished dish at Sri. But since you don't get to see someone making it like on the street in Thailand, it is probably presumptious of me to think it is mashed. I was thinking mashing without really hitting the peppers might explain some of what you experienced.

          As you probably realize, your tollerance to hot might be 'peaking' right now after a visit to S.E.A. I know I felt like superman on my return from a serveral month stay in Thailand, eating whole peppers with no problem. Today I have lost much of my super powers and go with small bites of the peppers and appropriate amounts of time between bites to allow cooling.

          PS - Som tum is probably the second most inconsistent dish as far as flavor, sugar level, and heat that I have found, even at the 'good' places like Sri and Chao. If you want to experience some real frustration, try to find a good Phad Thai now that you have been spoiled with it in Thailand

          1. re: dhs

            based on the way the somtam arrived, i'm pretty certain they didn't mash it at all, but rather just tossed it like a green salad...

            i agree that somdam in the US can be maddeningly inconsisent, but it *shouldn't* be inconsistent because it's made to order and in Thailand it's very normal to specify exactly how you want it made (on the street, Thai's will specify the exact number of chilies they want in it, usually somewhere between 2 and 9)...

            1. re: Simon

              I wonder if it has anything to do with who's making your food. I've ordered papaya salad from Sri where it came out just tossed -- really bland and tasteless. But I've then had it where it was much more flavorful.

              After alkapal (I think it was her) hipped me to the Oxo julienne peeler, I've made my som tam at home, personalizing to my specifications and definitely mashing all the flavors into my papaya. I also like to put a salted crab in it (haven't found this in Thai restaurants in NYC). Your salad will be much better than what you get at restaurants.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                They have Papaya salad with salted crab at Zabb.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Som Tum with the salted crab can be found in at least a few places. I have had it at Nusura and Chao and I believe it is on the menu at Podam. It helps to have someone who speaks Thai with you but you could try ordering it - Som Tum Pu or Som Tum Pu Dong.

          2. re: ow77

            re: other Thai placesin Queens...i've been to Zaab ages ago, and wasn't thrilled, though i'd be willing to try it again...have never been to Chao...will ask some Thai people if there is somewhere that is under thre radar and report back...

          3. Gee I sure hope it hasn't gone downhill. All the raves on this board make me want to visit, and I haven't been yet. :)

            6 Replies
            1. re: comestible

              the place is great, and if you've never been you should go absolutely, but don't go on the weekends, or you might encounter problems in consistency and quality. Best time is early evenings or mid afternoon lunch if you can make it at those times.

              Please describe the carmelized shrimp dish, Simon....I am a long time customer there, and I've never seen anything described as such, only what used to be the pork and garlic and pepper, and years ago, we would request the shrimp this way, and then they finally put it on the menu, as when other people used to see us ordering it, they wanted it to.

              But, they refer to it as shrimp with garlic and pepper, and it comes with sliced cucumbers on the plate. It basically looks and tastes like shrimp scampi, extremely garlicky carmelized concoction, and then the garlic stuff is great, mixed into the coconut rice. Shrimp are hot, and cucumbers are cold as garnish going around.

              If there is some other shrimp dish, that doesn't fit my above desription, please let me know, because I am clueless about it, and I order shrimp more than anything else.

              Thanks.

              1. re: janie

                hi janie...we're talking about the same dish...doesn't really taste peppery, so that may be a misnomer on their part...

              2. re: comestible

                Re weekend visits - I routinely get to Sri on Saturday or Sunday afternoons at around 1:30 and there is never any problem getting seated immediately. An additional bonus is that the room is half full or less so the noise level is greatly reduced.

                1. re: comestible

                  comestible, i agree w/ janie that if you've never been, you should definitely go there...like i said in the original post, i'm really picky about Thai food...if you've only had Thai in places like Manhattan, then it'll prob still be at least a mini-revelation...even the meal i described above was better than anything in Manhattan...

                  but on the this past visit, i would say that the quality was below that of some of the above-average places in Thai Town in Hollywood, CA

                  1. re: Simon

                    I apologize if I sound argumentative, I'm not trying to be, but I think the comparison to Thai Town, is a matter of opinion. I have visited LA only for a few days but I ate at Jitlada several times and once at Ruen Pair. I think Sripraphai is better than Ruen Pair and different, rather than better or worse than Jitlada. These restaurants (and this is also true when comparing Sripraphai to other Thai restaurants in Queens) offer alternative renditions of Thai food, and they offer us a rich set choices, which is of course a good thing.
                    I am not a Sripraphai fanatic. I usually try to convince my friends to try out other places when we're in the area. But based on taste and overall experience, for me, Sripraphai still reigns supreme. I think your experience at Sripraphai last Thursday was uncharacteristic and I hope it won't happen to you again.

                    1. re: ow77

                      no apologies needed...it's *all* merely opinion...*smiles*...i really truly hope that my next visit to Sri wows me and puts me back in the happy camp...

                      re: Thai Town, i usually go to Hollywood Thai, which i thought had some of the most consistent food in the area...(Jitlada is more of a specific Southern place w/ some decent BKK cuisine too --- compared to most N.America Thai places which do a BKK cuisisine w/ a nod to Isaan)...

                      i hope my disappointing trip to Sri was a random off day...(but unless they clear that disgusting General Tso thing from the menu, i'll remain a doubter for a while)...

                2. Simon: curious what you think of Chao and Nusra, being the oft mentioned Sri competitors.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: NYJewboy

                    hi...have never been to Chao and Nusra but i'll be checking them out soon...thanks

                    1. re: Simon

                      right on Simon, I've been traveling to thailand for the past 10 years and I really make a point of seeking out really good and authentic Thai food. I go to markets,street stalls, and places recommended by friends who have lived there for years.It is one of my favorite cuisines in the world.
                      years ago when I first went to Sri to to get my FIX of Thai food it was pretty good.My feeling is now given the quality of the food they serve it would not even be in business in Bangkok except perhaps on Khoa Son road selling to the tourists. Their Som Tom is a bad joke.

                      1. re: hoi lai

                        FWIW, i don't the som tam at sri has ever been good. But i do think it is a great thai restaurant. there are some things i would never order there, which also happen to be the ones that I do order at street stalls in thailand:

                        som tam
                        pad thai
                        pad see yew
                        etc.

                        I find they do better at "restaurant" sort of food. I've yet to find a place in NYC that does good thai street style food. Zabb used to do some decent isan things but i haven't liked it as much since the change in ownership. haven't tried chao yet, tho it's on my list.

                        As to the cashew chicken dish--we actually order that sometimes, tho usually with a friend who has them gotten then to make it exactly the way he likes it, with more chilies than chicken. That said, i have never seen a dish like it in thailand and don't think it it's particularly "authentic."

                        the other thing i will say is that if you want things "thai style" then it helps to get one of the seasoned, more experienced servers. The younger new ones seem more afraid of making things too spicy.

                        Also, the kitchen is much better on some days than on others. unfortunately, i haven't figured out the pattern yet.
                        I still go back, tho, because it's the closest i've come in nyc to thai food that even resembles what you get in thailand. perhaps chao will top it. i haven't tried it yet because it's small and we usually go to sri with about 6-8 people, and sri does the drunken noodles the way my son likes them. He asks for them spicy in thai and they make them very spicy for him, even tho at first they are usually disbelieving. which is the other thing i would say. it pays to go more than once so that they know your face and know you like it "thai style."

                        1. re: missmasala

                          yeah, i used to go fairly often a few years ago, but i hadn't been there in about a year and a half, so there was no recognition factor...but i did have one of the older servers and i speak Thai, and we chatted up a storm about spice levels, ingredients, etc...

                          re: the cashew chicken, when you say you've never a dish like it in Thailand, i assume you mean that you've never seen the deep-fried version that Sri serves?...

                          1. re: Simon

                            nope, i mean i've never had a dish like that one--with the lengths of scallion, cashews and pineapple--and chicken, either fried or not fried in a sticky sauce with lots of dried red peppers. The dish does seem chinese to me, sort of a cross between general tso's and a szechuan chong qing. I guess it must be a thai chinese dish.

                            I have had red curry with chicken and pineapple in thailand--it's usually awful, what i disparagingly call "scandanavian thai dive boat food."

                            But i probably don't eat out in thailand as much as most farangs--i go to visit family and my visits to traveler's style thai restaurants is limited. Plus, my thai SIL (whom i usually eat out with) would never order a dish like that--she hates pineapple in her savory food.

                            1. re: missmasala

                              in Thailand, i've never had a pineapple version (yuck) nor a general tso-ish version...but a simple chicken stir-fried w/ cashews and some red chili paste is a very common dish in BKK, available at most BKK-style Thai restaurants, both farangish and local...that's why i was so surprised and dismayed at what they served me at Sri last week...

                              but i think you are right that even that simpler version of the dish is originally a Thai-Chinese thing, albeit one that became popular...

                              1. re: Simon

                                ah yes, that dish i do know--if you were expecting that, sri's version would be hugely strange and disappointing.

                                one thing they do better at sri than anywhere else i've tried it in nyc is the tom kha gai. It's delicious (but ask for it very spicy). I usually get an extra order to go and eat it over rice all week for lunch.

                                I have not found a good som tam (with the nice long shreds of papaya) made in a mortar and pestle (i like it with small pieces of lime pounded up in there, too) in nyc. If anyone knows of one (not with salted crab--which i don't like) i would love to find out about it.

                                1. re: missmasala

                                  i like lots of lime too (and i also don't like the salted crab)...i often ask for extra lime, but they rarely do it, at least not on the nicely mashed way...

                                  i'll check out Chao soon and report back

                        2. re: hoi lai

                          Hoi La, welcome to Chowhound. I see that your first post is certainly a memorable one:

                          "years ago when I first went to Sri to to get my FIX of Thai food it was pretty good.My feeling is now given the quality of the food they serve it would not even be in business in Bangkok except perhaps on Khoa Son road selling to the tourists. Their Som Tom is a bad joke."

                          I love it when I hear stuff like this.

                          "The pizza in Naples is better than the pizza in Brooklyn."

                          "The cassoulet in Paris is better than the cassoulet in Manhattan."

                          "The borscht in Warsaw is better than the borscht in Greenpoint."

                          That all may be true or, in the case of Sri, it may not. The crowd at Sri is predominately Thai and they seem to enjoy it well enough. Perhaps they are mistaken or perhaps they tolerate the substandard food because they aren't lucky enough to frequently fly back to Thailand to get a taste of the real thing at the markets and street stalls. Or perhaps the food at Sri is really good after all.

                          In the end, it really doesn't matter. If you know of a better Thai restaurant in New York City please tell us about it. If New York is in fact a great wasteland for Thai food then you may want to consider going to the Greater Asia board and letting people know where to find the really good and authentic places in Thailand.

                          1. re: Bob Martinez

                            Bob: what do you object to about an authenticity check? I for one find the comparison helpful. I understand pizza better knowing why pizza in Naples is better (which, more often than not, it is).

                            1. re: NYJewboy

                              What I object to is the subtext - "You silly people. You think this is good but I've been to Thailand and I know it's not."

                              Well, maybe. First, just because you can afford a plane ticket doesn't make you an expert. It's also hard to assess his credibility based on only a single post. Secondly, if the best food is in Thailand it really doesn't help us poor schlubs in Queens.

                              I invited the poster to tell us where the great places are in Queens, the truly great places that will blow the doors off Sri. So far he hasn't responded. If he does, we can all check them out. If there are better Thai restaurants in Queens that will be wonderful news.

                              In the absence of that all we're left with is stories about "the food is always better in the old country."

                              1. re: Bob Martinez

                                Sorry if I gave the impression that I think people are silly for liking Sriphraphi. What I object to is the low standards Sri has set for the quality of their food.Unfortunately they are probably the best in NYC which is a sad comment on the state of thai food here.They could<if they wanted afford a good Thai Chef but I think there attitude is WHY BOTHER if people will buy th e stuff we turn out now.
                                A few years ago I asked the lady who is 1 of the owners why she doesn't have HOI LAI (which is a delicious stir fried clam dish with lots of basil and chili ) on the menu and she said she couldn't get those clams here.I mentioned that Manilla clams are almost the same. To make a long story short she started offering them as aspecial and they where horrible .The worst part is she cut way back on the fresh basil leaves .She new the dish I was talking about and I'm sure was aware of what she was doing in cutting back on one of the main (and cheapest) ingredients in the dish.She just didn't care.
                                As for the Thais that go there something is better than nothing and I think they probably make more authentic food in their homes as do the Laotian friends i have here.
                                Sorry if I offended anyone,Hoi Lai

                                1. re: hoi lai

                                  hey hoi lai,

                                  do you or your laotian friends know a good place to get laotian food in nyc? if so, that would be totally exciting!!

                    2. sri is still the best thai food ive ever had, my favorite things to order are green curry with duck and crispy pork with chili and basil as well as the stewed pork leg