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The Stunning Duck Penang Curry at Ayada Thai in Elmhurst

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Me and my friend Dave have been working through local Thai restaurants, trying to contrast and compare them. A "Thaifecta" if you will. There's been nothing particularly noteworthy to report thus far...until tonight.

We hit Ayada Thai (77-08 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst, NY), which I'd not previously tried. The rap on this place is that it's good-not-great, and that salads and soups are better than entrees.

Aw, contraire.

The Penang curry with duck was 1. the best duck dish I've had in a long, long time, and 2. one of the best thai dishes I've had in a long, long time. It's nearly impossible to describe something this good (the analytic mind breaks down above a certain quality level (see http://jimleff.info/eating-by-the-num... ). It's a huge, generous hunk of boneless, skinless, fatless cut-up duck, absurdly crisp and sizzly in places and juicy/meaty in others, sitting atop an orange, unctuous, deep-flavored Penang curry sauce. You must try it. You will try it. You: TRY IT!

Drunken noodles with beef were merely excellent. No match for the duck.

Som tum had a lusciousness to it, and was addictive. We also had some tom-zap, which was thin, sour, and incendiary (we ordered it Thai spicy). Pumpkin custard was good, and obviously homemade. Nothing matches the duck. I shall forever dream of the duck.

Here's the other piece of new info: the good stuff (shrimp paste fried rice, black egg in basil sauce, frog leg) is all on the paper takeout menu only. Spurn the laminated in-restaurant menus, which mostly list gringo-friendly items.

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Ayada
77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

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  1. I've been wanting to try Ayada for awhile and you've convinced me. Definitely will be swinging by for lunch soon.

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    Ayada
    77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

    1. try their green mango salad too, as an alternative to the green papaya. very different salad.

      1. jim....that link took me to some post from 2005. can you repost your full link?

        1 Reply
        1. re: redgirl

          Hi! Wasn't a post; was an article I wrote, relevant today, better explaining my observation that at a very high grade of hyperdeliciousness the ability to analyze breaks down. On the scale discussed in that article, the duck penang curry was about a 9.5 out of 10.

        2. thanks for the tip, ill definitely check this out. my fav thai dish is the green curry duck in Sripraphai. not sure how it compares but green curry and penang curry are probably different beasts.

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          SriPraPhai
          64-13 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

          1. check out ambala. then check it out again.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Jeffsayyes

              After a couple tries at Ambala, it seems to range from mediocre to OK, actually. It's fine as a steam table take-out joint for someone in the neighborhood, but I wouldn't recommend it as a destination. Maybe you can specify which dishes you really liked. I think you can get comparable fare at any of the other places nearby. For better takeout options, check out the Thai counter inside the Hong Kong market in Elmhurst.

              1. re: E Eto

                "...check out the Thai counter inside the Hong Kong market in Elmhurst"
                That would be Mukda, the small counter near the entrance on the left. They are - or at least were - associated with Rumphool in Woodside.
                P.

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                Rumphool
                57-17 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                1. re: Polecat

                  ya just saw Mukda for the first time recently. like a mini Sugar Club.

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                  Sugar Club
                  81-20 Broadway, Queens, NY 11373

                2. re: E Eto

                  no, it's not a destination. i love it b/c i live 3 blocks away. i like the pumpkin stuff, the sour stuff, the samosas, the soup is outstanding, and whatever I'm like: what is that???

              2. Thanks Jim with the information in this post I think I am ready to make my first visit here. Sripraphai has always gotten my Thai business but this looks more exciting

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                SriPraPhai
                64-13 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                8 Replies
                1. re: AubWah

                  Aub and Daffy

                  By way of calibration, I was FGITD (first gringo in the door) at Sripraphai when it first opened (and reviewed it in NY Newsday). And green curry duck was always my top recco there.

                  It's apples and oranges compared to this. But this is a stupendous orange, and that's just a very very good apple, IMO.

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                  SriPraPhai
                  64-13 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    how is it apples and oranges

                    1. re: AubWah

                      1. Green curry is not Penang curry

                      2. Dry duck Vs wet duck

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        thanks for pointing that out, cause i ordered the green curry last time i was at ayada and was very underwhelmed. definitely not as good as sri.

                        i had then dismissed all curries at ayada, but your post has me rethinking that approach. will give the penang duck a try next time i go.

                        1. re: missmasala

                          I always try to bear in mind that even in my favorite restaurants, there are dishes someone might order that would disappoint them. You need to find the good stuff!

                          The Food Critic's Fallacy, which is surprisingly difficult to overcome, is that if on your first visit, you order mostly disappointing things, but it subsequently turns out that you'd gotten unlucky with the order, and that lots of other things on the menu are stupendous, you will still tend to maintain a slightly tepid opinion. All the more so if you don't do any follow-up, and stick with your first impression!

                          Again, someone could just as easily go to your favorite restaurant, get the wrong thing, and come away disappointed. So while you don't have to be like a food critic and try every single item, it helps to fend off the natural inclination to judge too early on too little evidence (and it IS a VERY natural inclination!).

                          Anyway, that's how I think of it, FWIW....

                          1. re: Jim Leff

                            All my visits to Ayada, it's been about 50-50. but the stuff they do well, they do so well that i keep coming back. plus, the staff is nice and i like the small room.

                            my opinion on the restaurant itself wasn't tepid, only on it's curries.

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                            Ayada
                            77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                            1. re: missmasala

                              I get delivery from Ayada somewhat regularly and I find them just to be a bit inconsistent, more from night to night than from dish to dish. Everything is always good enough, but some nights almost everything we order is fantastic and some nights everything is just good. The spice levels too seem to vary wildly from pretty muted to almost inedibly spicy.

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                              Ayada
                              77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                              1. re: The Turtle Bay Dove

                                spice-wise, you can always take into consideration the heat of the chilis themselves, which can vary.

                2. so often in bad thai restaurants, the duck (or duck pieces) are deep-fried pieces way too tough to enjoy; I had a good duck curry at My Thai (also in elmhurst) right off Broadway on Dongan Avenue. I'll hit that duck sometime; the stir-fried thousand-year-old egg dish seems to be all over the queens thai menus!

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                  My Thai
                  83-47 Dongan Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                  1. it's so nice to see a review of yours on the outer board...a rare sighting these days...
                    miss your posts of days gone by!

                    1. Jim, How "dry" was the sauce?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MOREKASHA

                        Dry duck atop pool of wet sauce.

                      2. Almost certainly going for lunch tomorrow. Any other chowhounds interested?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ChiefHDB

                          I'm thinking of going for lunch today as well. Feel free to email me: jeremy at dinevore

                          1. re: jeremyhfisher

                            Great lunch with Jeremy yesterday at Ayada. I'm not a Thai expert in the least bit, but I'm sure you all want to hear my opinion regardless...

                            Raw shrimp salad. Great start-- 7 raw shrimp sitting on top of expertly sliced peppers and beneath a sliver of garlic and loads of chile and lime juice. Spicy and a little funky.

                            We deemed the duck penang curry to be merely excellent. However, the perfect texture of the duck, boneless with extra crispy bits, is what has stuck me the most (it's nice to be able to chomp away without worrying about tiny pieces of duck bone). I dug the curry, but I don't know if I can get behind "transcendental."

                            Tom zap-- probably my favorite dish. The soup broth was perfect for a cold day and the pieces of cornish hen were still tender among the aromatic vegetables and chiles.

                            Black egg in basil sauce and ground pork wasn't something that would leap out at me to order, but was also excellent. The black egg seemed to add a fatty texture to the leaner pork, while the crunchy basil added a nice herbal bite. This might only be on the takeout menu, but don't quote me.

                            We ordered everything Thai spicy (but both of us thought it could have been spicier). There were no leftovers.

                            Weirdest thing about the place-- soundtrack for our whole meal was an odd Lilith Fair acoustic-guitar-y album of 90's rock covers. Nirvana, Audioslave, Guns & Roses, Metallica and Alice and Chains all made an appearance. Likely the most incongruous music I've ever heard in a restaurant.

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                            Ayada
                            77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                            1. re: ChiefHDB

                              thanks for the writeup, sounds like a good meal. I'm a huge fan of their dark blood tendon soup as I've expressed many times on this board; try that instead of the tom zap next time.

                        2. Just had the traditional Jewish Christmas dinner in an Asian restaurant, and picked Ayada for a return.

                          Duck Penang curry managed to fully replicate its hyperdeliciousness. I brought a new companion - a curmudgeon who was totally knocked out and agreed that I hadn't exaggerated in my report (above). Merry crispness, indeed!

                          Tom Kha Kai (sp?) is the soup to get, if you order it Thai spicy. Damn, that was good...and soulful. Better than the tom zap.

                          Chinese watercress with crispy pork was about as good as I've had. Maybe not quite as good as Sripraphai's version back in the day (they changed it up six years ago or so), but in the same class. Not quite as smokey-flavored as Sripraphai used to get it.

                          Fried rice with sour sausage was non-flashy but soulful and hit all the marks.

                          I have yet to eat anything there that makes me think this isn't the best Thai restaurant in NYC. Though I haven't been through all the newish places yet. But it knocks the legs out of under Sripraphai, because this place has TOUCH. Also great ambiance and very friendly service.

                          I know lots of people rate it lower than I do. Hey, lots of people said "meh" to Sripraphai back in the day, too (and Mina....and Difara....and Kabab Cafe....and Charles Soulfood...etc etc). Nothing's loved universally. But I am psyched!

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                          Kabab Cafe
                          25-12 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

                          SriPraPhai
                          64-13 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                          Ayada
                          77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Jim Leff

                            Just noticed, according to their facebook page, they offer grasshoppers. That's a rarity....

                          2. A photo (not safe for work)

                             
                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              I was skeptical but a few friends and I stopped at Ayada last night for a nice dinner. It was well worth it. We ordered the larb, drunken noodles, shrimp salad appetizer, crispy penang duck, pork leg with mustard greens and fried catfish with eggplant.

                              Everything was delicious but the crispy duck as advertised was stunning. I think we were all wishing we could have more of that dish to go around. We also enjoyed the raw shrimp though we found the quality of the shrimp to be lacking slightly and we didn't enjoying seeing the veins still intact. Pork leg was meltingly soft and tender. I'm looking forward to my next trip!

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                              Ayada
                              77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                              1. re: deabot

                                We went for a family dinner on valentine's day and I still find the larb there to be the best i've had in NYC. Same with their version of crispy pork with chinese broccoli. Don't like the drunken noodles there, tho.
                                I wasn't in the mood for curry, so ordered the crispy duck salad instead. I found this a disappointment. In general, I am disappointed in their mango and papaya salads--I find them a touch too sweet. I don't like sri's duck salad either. The best was the one at the old zabb. I suspect Thailand Centerpoint's would be good if they offered one.

                                Still, I love Ayada. The people there are so friendly. We go there the most now bc my son is addicted to the larb and never wants to go anywhere else.

                                1. re: missmasala

                                  "In general, I am disappointed in their mango and papaya salads--I find them a touch too sweet"

                                  Not my experience at all. The seafood som tam I had here was the best I've had to date. Potent spice, nice tang, not overly sweet at all, and easily the freshest seafood I've ever gotten at a Thai establishment. I too liked the Penang Duck Curry, but the seafood papaya salad is still my favorite dish here.

                                  Amongst the appetizers I've enjoyed are the pork crab roll - terrific stuff - as well as a very simple and light bean curd soup with ground chicken - the perfect compliment to a spicier entree.

                                  P.

                                  1. re: Polecat

                                    I had a seafood salad here once and I didn't like it that much. Same problem as the duck salad.

                                    but not sure if it was the som tam. think it was green mango. In fact, now that I think about it, have never had papaya salad here. So should amend my post to say that I am disappointed with the mango salads here. Which is a shame, because Sri's green mango salad, when it's on, is fabulous, and I would like to have a good one here as well.

                                    perhaps i will specify som tam and not green mango next time and give it one more try.

                                    I agree that the seafood is fresher here than other places, (tho it was also fresh at Centerpoint) but since, for me, the seafood is secondary to the salad itself, that is small comfort when the salad isn't what i wanted.

                            2. Had lunch there today. really really great.

                              I'm a Chao Thai fan and Ayada is a fantastic alternative. The penang was fantastic. Although not Thai, the raw shrimp app was also really good.

                              Overall seemed a little more modern styled than Chao.

                              -----
                              Chao Thai
                              85-03 Whitney Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                              Ayada
                              77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                              15 Replies
                              1. re: MRich

                                I went after the blizzard a couple of weeks ago.
                                The duck is as advertised.......
                                Also had the mango seafood salad and the chicken soup.
                                Lady Gaga playing in the background.....
                                Cool joint with great vittles..
                                Regards,
                                JK

                                1. re: johnk

                                  OMG Lady Gaga was playing there yesterday too!

                                2. re: MRich

                                  confused—is the raw shrimp app not thai in style? we eat raw shrimp in thailand a lot (with a lime, chili, etc sauce), so just trying to figure out what you meant.

                                  1. re: missmasala

                                    It's not something I've seen before. I read somewhere that the chef said they got the idea from a trip to Japan or a Japanese recipe or something. It didn't strike me as Thai (or really Japanese either). If served it blind I would have guessed "modern Asian-influenced South American".

                                    1. re: MRich

                                      It's also on the menu at Sripraphai. I'm assuming it's the same or at least a similar preparation you're thinking of, missmasala – loads of raw garlic, chiils, lime juice etc?

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                                      SriPraPhai
                                      64-13 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                                      1. re: gort

                                        Well I'm no expert, but I've never seen it before.

                                        From the Village Voice

                                        "We stared in wonder at our raw shrimp salad ($7)—eight gray beauties, beheaded and deveined, each splayed specimen meticulously mounded with a tasty emerald relish. "That doesn't look very Thai," I volunteered to our laughing hostess. "Some of us worked at a Japanese hotel in Bangkok," she explained, indicating that what we were eating was a sort of Thai-Japanese fusion, but one that would raise no eyebrows in Bangkok."

                                        The garlic wasn't raw, it was sliced thin, crisped and placed on top of raw shrimp with a spicy green sauce and a raw veg I didn't recognize.

                                        1. re: MRich

                                          I would chalk that up to "don't believe everything you read". I've had versions of raw shrimp salads at a few Thai places around Woodside/Elmhurst as well as in LA. It's called Goong Che Num Pla in Thai. I don't see any Japanese influence in this dish at all. If anything, it seems more influenced by Peruvian ceviche. I just wish the places that serve this dish use better shrimp than the stuff that comes frozen from who knows where.

                                          1. re: E Eto

                                            That's why we love Queens!
                                            Where's the good ceviche lately? I'm ready...
                                            Regards,
                                            JohnK

                                            1. re: johnk

                                              I just disregard everything the VV says.

                                              I'm pretty sure the raw veg was a green pepper, but I could be wrong. See the pic.

                                               
                                              1. re: ChiefHDB

                                                The green veg is bitter melon.

                                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                                  Thanks! Yeah, too many "ruffles" for green pepper. I think the white part is what led me astray.

                                                  1. re: ChiefHDB

                                                    I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be stumped by green pepper.

                                                2. re: ChiefHDB

                                                  except for the slivers of raw garlic on top (and the shredded carrot) that looks pretty much like what we eat in bangkok. It looks like sauce is the same, sort of a chunky garlic lime chili concoction. tho i've never had it served with bitter melon.

                                                  1. re: missmasala

                                                    Good to know. I'll look for it more often, it was good.

                                                    BTW the garlic wasn't raw, it was crispy crunchy (fried?) and really good, although it didn't win me any friends later in the day.

                                                    1. re: missmasala

                                                      was it stunning?

                                    2. I've had this dish almost a half dozen times, and it's always met my high expectations. But then I went back this tuesday, and it was a zero. The duck was mangy, the sauce just off. Nothign to it at all. The other food was down a notch, as well.

                                      My first theory is that this nasty bug's going around, so maybe the top chef was home sick. Second theory is he takes Tuesdays off. Any other fans of this dish who've been there on a Tuesday and had really great duck?

                                      I'll go back next week, just to confirm that they haven't switched chefs entirely, which would be a disaster.....

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                        Just checked the day of the week that I went with ChiefHDB back in December...it was a Tuesday and the duck we had wasn't anything to write home about. So your Tuesday hypothesis seems plausible.

                                        1. re: jeremyhfisher

                                          Bad on them for not having a decent back-up chef. But, hey, I always consider restaurants to be obstructions to my mission to eat deliciously. They try not to let me do so, and I have to work hard to get around the obstacles. So I'll go on Thursday next time.

                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                            Went tonight (monday, not a tuesday) and was with curry-loving friends, so ordered the duck penang curry for the first time. I liked the duck, which was crispy, but thought the sauce a little too sweet and not spicy enough or enough kaffir lime flavor. But my SO, who usually doesn't like curry, thought it was absolutely delicious. he said he liked it because, tho it was sweet, it wasn't too coconutty, which was true. (I thought this was a flaw.) the other two people we were with seemed to love it, too.
                                            FWIW, I did not see the woman who has been doing the cooking every other time I have been there. Either she wasn't cooking, or she didn't come out of the kitchen. But all the other dishes were in their usual good form.

                                            1. re: missmasala

                                              A bit sweet, yes. Less coconutty than usual, yes. Crispy sounds right....on my off night, there was no crispiness at all. Spicy, well, you know gringos must beg. I go in to places screaming "very spicy, please", in Thai, which always elicits laughter and disbelief, and, even so, I frequently get gringo-ed on the spice level. You gotta earn it.

                                              So: so far so good. But........if you're saying you "liked" the duck, and didn't "love" the duck, then either we're different species or you didn't have the duck I've been having. So the mystery deepens.

                                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                                Well, I "liked" the duck, but my SO "loved loved loved" the duck and thought it was the best curry he's ever had (and he goes to thailand--with me--on a fairly regular basis) so you and he must be the same species.

                                                I ask for it very spicy in thai, too--but you know, come to think of it, the larb, which was the only other super spicy dish we had, wasn't as spicy as usual either.

                                                So I suspect it was the duck you've been having, but perhaps a little less spicy.

                                                1. re: missmasala

                                                  Makes sense. Also, a sweetish sauce like this one really needs the heat to bolster and balance. Without it, it could seem simple and cloying.

                                                  But none of this explains your duck reaction (for those who've never been here, this place puts the duck atop the sauce, partially dry, so it's not all about the sauce). Could be species-related, could be chef-related.....

                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                    "...this place puts the duck atop the sauce"

                                                    Not on the day that I had it, which is a Sunday, early afternoon, my general time for hitting up Ayada. That was pretty much my only problem with their preparation. While not smothered, the duck was fully immersed, which masked the pure duck taste somewhat. In every other way - spicing, balance of flavor, crispness - it was very good (although not my favorite of their dishes).

                                                    By way of comparison, I just had the same dish at Arharn in Astoria, and liked their presentation better. First off, the duck is more plentiful, bone-on, with leg and breast, served completely atop the sauce - which allows for more variety in each bite. It was fatty, juicy and very crisp. The sauce was less spicy than I had asked for, something that was more than made up for with a few dashes of their potent chili sauce.

                                                    P.

                                                    -----
                                                    Ayada
                                                    77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                                                    1. re: Polecat

                                                      besides the duck penang how does the rest of the food at Arharn compare to Ayada

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                                                      Ayada
                                                      77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                                                      1. re: daffyduck

                                                        Only tried that one dish so far. Good, though.
                                                        p.

                                      2. After reading this report we had to return to Ayada. We hadn't been there for about nine months or so. Last night we trekked over and had an absolutely excellent meal.

                                        I'm not sure if they have hit their stride, or simply everything was great but, the meal much impressed us. Since the time they first opened, when you might dine there with just a couple of tables filled, they are now packed. The room is not large and can get loud.

                                        From the papaya salad "pet pet" to the dumplings, calamari, shrimp, drunken noodles, and penang duck all the dishes were great, and they are still BYOB. And, while they don't have coconut rice on the menu they made us a side order, notwithstanding the crowd. It was superb. We thought the duck was great too, and there is a lot of it. Good sauce, different from SRI's red curry duck which we like a lot and the sauce was also different from SRI's penang curry, which we usually have with pork. All in all one of the top options for Thai, no doubt. Just wish it was down the block......

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                                        Ayada
                                        77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: comiendosiempre

                                          Since stumbling on this post about 6 weeks ago, I have been to Ayada 4 times and have reservations for Tuesday (hopefully the rumors above about tuesday being an off day prove false). Each time I have gone with a group of people and have probably tried more than half the menu at this point. Each meal has been superb. The duck panang remains the best in the curry section, but the sour curry is a unique treat not to be missed. The papaya whole fish is another must get. This place blows SRI out of the water.

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                                          Ayada
                                          77-08 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11373