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Zaab-Elee, new Thai in the east village, now the best Thai in NYC, perhaps.

c
comiendosiempre Mar 27, 2011 02:42 PM

Opened just a few days ago I have the pleasure to announce a new contender for best Thai in Manhattan: Zaab - Elle.

Located on 2d Avenue and about 4th street, it is the new occupant of what previously had been Le Da Nang. The spot is relatively small, narrow, pretty, and comfortable. After having visited most all the "contenders" for best Thai in Queens (SRI, Chao Thai, Ayada, etc) we thought Zaab-Elle is right up there with them, and better on a few dishes.

Apparently either "the chef," or "one of the chefs" from Zaab Queens has opened this branch. Which of the two scenarios was a bit unclear. The menu is pure Isaan food, from the northern part of Thailand. Thus, there are essentially no noodle dishes (except in the soups), no pad thai or similar, no spring rolls or dumplings or the like. That does take some getting used to and we saw the very sweet staff explaining this to most every table. Although the menu does have some photos, in truth, the dishes can be a bit hard to figure out. They also have a full bar (martinis are $7, I guess you gotta offer them in this neighborhood) and a good inexpensive wine and beer selection.

We ordered quite a number of salad-like dishes. The bbq pork with chilis, onion, mint, etc. was superb. Likely the best we have had outside Thailand. Large portions. Low prices, we thought. Their papaya salad with shrimp and pork likewise was excellent, as was another of their shrimp salads served at room temperature. We asked for the food "pet," spicy. The waitress asked, "are you sure, you mean like Thai spicy, Thai medium?" We said "absolutely." In any event, we eat a lot of spicy food and two of the dishes we had were incendiary. At the end of the meal one of the waitresses said, "we never really see locals eat dishes Thai spicy." While I hate to admit it, we dialed back on our next round of dishes, but we did finish the ones on fire too. They also do not really have coconut-based curry dishes. Thus, no red or green curries. I'm not sure they have any duck dish either. But, their dry curries were excellent. One, another pork dish, we all thought was just superb. The dishes are even prettily presented. A large noodle soup (a few broths to choose from), was similar to a well developed Pho, maybe a bit sweeter, with good rice noodles. We ordered a grilled calamari dish which for us was the one clunker. Likely just not to our taste, though the cilantro dipping sauce was excellent.

In terms of kitchen and staff, we saw a number of women working in the kitchen in the back; the food came out quickly. The staff could not be nicer. It was obvious they were focused on us having a good meal and enjoying the food.

In sum, we may now have a reason not to travel to Queens for Thai food so often. This place is not dumbing down their food for farangs and hopefully that will remain the case. Whether they can avoid adding a pad thai we will have to see. We can't wait to go back.

-----
Zabb Elee
75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

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  1. squid kun Mar 27, 2011 03:22 PM

    Thanks for this. Apparently ownership didn't even change - http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2011/03/jackson_heights_1.php - they just switched names, dropped the Vietnamese menu and went back to their Isaan roots. Wonder how it compares to Zabb Elee on Roosevelt.

    BTW here's an EV Grieve post with a couple of pics (you can sort of make out the menu) ... http://evgrieve.com/2011/03/on-second...

    1 Reply
    1. re: squid kun
      c
      comiendosiempre Mar 27, 2011 05:38 PM

      Yes, that is indeed the spot, and the menu. Indeed, the menu they provide is much like the one in the window -- but smaller. A number of photos of the dishes. But, due to the lighting and the fact that the photos are not right next to the names of the dishes, as in SRI for example, it takes time to figure out the dishes.

      Ironically, the table that sat down next to us, when handed the menus, asked, "did you change the menu?" They did not realize upon entering that Le Da Nang had closed and Zaab had opened. After much discussion they decided to stay, and seemed pleased. They too got the explanation: "Isaan food, no noodles, etc....

    2. s
      Simon Mar 27, 2011 04:20 PM

      interesting...same owners at the Zabb on 13th St?...

      4 Replies
      1. re: Simon
        squid kun Mar 27, 2011 04:32 PM

        Don't know, but I suspect not. I think Zabb City was opened by the owners of Zabb Queens before Zabb Queens (now Zabb Elee) changed hands a while ago.

        -----
        Zabb City
        244 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

        1. re: squid kun
          s
          Simon Mar 27, 2011 04:56 PM

          ok...i will try Zabb-Elee soon :)

          1. re: Simon
            s
            Simon Mar 28, 2011 06:03 PM

            went tonight...a very exciting meal: actual yummy fish-saucey Isaan in Manhattan -- for the first time ever...will report details later, but this is the best (and only authentic) Isaan being served in Manhattan...

        2. re: Simon
          Pedr0 Oct 15, 2011 09:16 AM

          Hope not. The Zaab on 13th is dismal.

          -----
          Zabb City
          244 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

        3. erica Mar 29, 2011 03:52 AM

          Very good news! Many thanks for your report..will get there very soon.

          Guess the name comes from this place:

          http://www.bangkokpost.com/food/resta...

          1. D...DF Apr 5, 2011 09:18 AM

            I'm going with a group tonight. Any additional must-haves? Thanks.

            1. p
              polimorfos Apr 5, 2011 10:26 PM

              Ate here for the first time this evening. I was dining solo so I only had a duck larb with some very good sticky rice. It was very fresh and complex tasting with a very light hand on the sugar, unlike all the other thai restaurants in NYC. This looks like the perfect spring/summer food. Definitely returning soon to try the rest of the menu!

              Sadly, both tables to either side of me asked if they served Pad Thai...

              2 Replies
              1. re: polimorfos
                thew Apr 13, 2011 07:15 AM

                why is that sad? pad thai is a dish ubiquitous across thailand.

                1. re: thew
                  s
                  Simon Apr 13, 2011 07:40 AM

                  it's sad because Zabb Elee is trying to make a go of it by serving authentic Isaan food, and pad thai is not Isaan...it's kind of like if someone walked into a Mexican restaurant that was serving Oaxacan seafood and asked for beef tacos...

                  -----
                  Zabb Elee
                  75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

              2. g
                gort Apr 6, 2011 08:34 AM

                We had a great dinner here last night: the bbq pork dish mentioned above, a catfish dry curry and radish omelet. It was as good or better as our last meal at Ayada (had an off night there), and I'm eager to go back. The staff, as noted, are friendly and attentive. Really hope they can make a go of it.

                4 Replies
                1. re: gort
                  m
                  millefeuille Apr 6, 2011 01:06 PM

                  Agree with the enthusiastic reviews. Tried delivery last night. Arrived fast -- everything was bright and fresh and we were grateful that they did not hold back with chili heat.
                  Look forward to trying again soon.

                  1. re: millefeuille
                    k
                    kathyyl Apr 12, 2011 02:46 PM

                    Millefeuille - where did you find the delivery menu? I've been poking all around the web, but can't seem to find an online copy of the menu anywhere. The weather today calls for delivery! ;)

                    1. re: kathyyl
                      squid kun Apr 12, 2011 06:57 PM

                      Click on the Chow link on the right side of this page. It includes a link to the menu and other info about the restaurant.

                      1. re: squid kun
                        k
                        kathyyl Apr 12, 2011 07:03 PM

                        ahh got it, thank you!

                2. r
                  roderickhazardplain Apr 11, 2011 01:03 PM

                  Yes this place is great, nothing really to add, but it's cheap and generous and delicious; what more can you ask?

                  1. l
                    lucyj Apr 11, 2011 06:15 PM

                    I also just had a wonderful meal here. Ended up here when the place I was supposed to meet a friend at was closed for Monday. It had been on my list of restaurants to try since I'd read this thread. Of course, since it was last minute, I didn't have time to check the dishes people had recommended here, and as someone else mentioned, the menu is pretty big and a little confusing. I asked our waitress for recommendations, however, and she was incredibly helpful and everything was delicious. We had the papaya salad mentioned above, the duck larb, a pork and eggplant dish as well as a beef dish that I can't remember exactly and a soup. We enjoyed everything and despite the fact that it was a good amount of food we nearly finished everything. We requested moderately spicy and she confirmed we meant moderate for Americans (I know, I wish I was the type who could request Thai spicy and mean it) and that is exactly what we got. She was very attentive and a man who seemed like he was the owner or a manager came over twice to see how we were doing. Great meal all around!

                    1. r
                      robertgoulet Apr 11, 2011 07:02 PM

                      I live around the corner and have now been several times to Zabb Elee. I don't often feel inspired to post on Chowhound but I came home tonight after dinner fully intending to begin a thread exactly like this one.

                      Zabb Elee is quietly serving the best Thai food in Manhattan, and easily some of the best in the New York City area. I have spent a lot of time in Northern Thailand and Laos, I have been blown away by the quality of the food at this place. They serve food on a spiciness scale of 1-5, 5 being the hottest. I ordered the Som Tum Korat (papaya, peanut, Thai eggplant, pickled fish, tomato, dried shrimp, chili) at a level 5. After receiving the requisite warnings that 5 spicy is not for farang, I got the most amazing papaya salad I've had outside of Thailand -- a very generous portion of green papaya with just the right amount of sweet and sour -- and absolutely, mind-numbingly, tongue searing heat. A "5" is pretty comparable to Sirpraphai's "bomb" spicy. Delicious.

                      So far, I've also had the larb pla dook, a fish larb with lots of fresh herbs. Perfect with sticky rice. i tried this the day the restaurant opened and thought the flavors were spot on but not spicy enough -- though I haven't ordered it since, I'm quite confident they can adjust the heat.

                      As everyone else has mentioned, the menu is solely Issan and offers a lot of options you don't frequently see on Manhattan menus. I can't remember ever seeing a Manhattan Thai place offer 4 kinds of kai jaew (a glorious fish sauce flavored omelet, possibly the best breakfast in the world). I am particularly anxious to try some of the Yang and Toam dishes on the menu.

                      Also - they do have a Bangkok rice & noodle section on the menu too. I haven't tried it but it looks legit.

                      Highly, highly recommend! Bring friends because I want this place to succeed!

                      I have also ordered the

                      -----
                      Zabb Elee
                      75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                      1. l
                        Lau Apr 12, 2011 07:32 PM

                        it is quite good although i think some of the isaan dishes are comparable at zabb city (the larb and papaya salad), but i really love that they have an expanded isaan menu. i went last saturday, im going to go a couple more times and then right a full review with pics etc

                        great find comiendosiempre!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Lau
                          s
                          Simon Apr 13, 2011 05:19 AM

                          hi Lau...glad you liked Zaab-Elee...but re: papaya salad, the versions at Zaab-Elee are significantly better than Zabb City -- i don't think they are even in same ballpark...Zabb City used to be the best thing in the area, but that's not saying much: i.e. Zabb City doesn't even have goong haeng (dried shrimp) to use to make a simple basic somdam (they told me they don't bother buying the dried shrimp since they think farang don't like them...so even at the basic ingredient stage (before preparation), i don't feel the two restaurants are comparable...

                          Zaab Elee on the other hand has about seven varieties, all made traditionally...and they are also the only restaurant in Manhattan that has bla-ra (freshly rotted fish sauce) to use in some of the versions...(even most of the Queens Thai places don't have it)...ask for bla-ra in any other Manhattan restaurant and they'll just laugh (even many Thai people find it too strong and don't like it)...

                          i'm really delighted about Zabb Elee and plan to work my way through the menu...at some point i want to go w/ a group and order all the somdam versions :)

                          -----
                          Zabb City
                          244 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

                          Zabb Elee
                          75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                          1. re: Simon
                            r
                            robertgoulet Apr 13, 2011 06:09 AM

                            Agree entirely Simon.

                            1. re: Simon
                              l
                              Lau Apr 13, 2011 07:07 AM

                              you are correct in that they don't have the same variety, but i honestly didn't think the som tum thai was all that different tasting ditto on moo larb.

                              That said i liked this alot and the rest of the food was definitely better than zabb city and better than sripriphai although sri is sort of apples to oranges since it's not the same type of thai food (although sri is way overrated in my opinion, i'd rather eat the food at zabb elee).

                              1. re: Lau
                                r
                                robertgoulet Apr 13, 2011 08:17 AM

                                It's not just variety (although Zabb Elee definitely wins on that front, I don't know anywhere else in manhattan serving cucumber and long bean som tum). Basic elements of preparation are considerably more authentic at Zabb Elee.

                                The first time I went to Zabb Elee I was relatively underwhelmed with the flavors of the laap that I ordered (this was the first night they were open). Subsequent visits were much improved. If you go back, make sure to let the servers know you are familiar with Issan food -- they are (perhaps understandably) pretty concerned that they will frighten off unwary visitors who aren't expecting a different experience. They will do it up if you let them know you are into it.

                                -----
                                Zabb Elee
                                75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                1. re: robertgoulet
                                  l
                                  Lau Apr 13, 2011 08:41 AM

                                  yah ill def be back soon, they were good to us and they made stuff pretty spicy and authentic, the som tum was way spicy although i like that

                              2. re: Simon
                                f
                                foodwhisperer May 2, 2011 08:31 PM

                                wow , they have pla ra, that is real issan food. I must check this place out. I had Issan girlfriend who made dishes with that. Very very strong taste. Filipino's have similar.

                            2. r
                              rrems Apr 12, 2011 08:36 PM

                              Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread. I would not have known about it otherwise. We went tonight and had a spectacular meal. I asked for spicy for Americans but not quite Thai spicy, and everything came out with just the right amount of heat. We had (sorry, I do not remember the Thai names) a seafood salad with shrimp, mussels, scallops and squid (extremely fresh and delicious), duck larb (exquisite), pork soup (delicious) and grilled chicken (wonderful crisp skin and great dipping sauce). They have Lao Beer (a dark lager) which we love. Prices are amazingly low. What a find! They were pretty busy too, so I think this will be a success.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: rrems
                                p
                                polimorfos Apr 13, 2011 05:24 AM

                                I asked for the Som Tum spicy and it was blistering... I'm Korean and I could barely finish it but I managed!

                                I laugh when people tell me Korean food is very spicy. Korean food is spicy. Thai food is VERY spicy.

                              2. ChristinaMason Apr 19, 2011 10:07 AM

                                Thank you all for these wonderful recommendations. A friend and I went to Zaab-Elee on Sunday and were blown away by how fresh and delicious the food was. We took a cue from you Hounds and ordered many of the dishes you enjoyed, including:

                                -ped (duck) larb - they were out, so we tried the catfish larb on the server's recommendation instead. It was very flavorful and had a nice zip from the lime juice. The kitchen used a restrained hand with the red onion, which I appreciated.

                                -pad ped moo karb
                                -pukk boong mooo karb

                                One of these dishes involved crispy pork with Thai eggplant and basil. The crunch from the pork skin was addictive, and we loved this dish. It was in a moderately spicy, umami-rich sauce. The other dish involved morning glory and pork, which tasted very light and crisp. Another big hit.

                                -som thom thai - I think this was the papaya salad with shrimp. The waiter set it down and said, "It's not too hot." We dug in, and it turned out to be incendiary (and I enjoy spicy food a LOT). We managed to sweat our way through about half of the dish, and when the waiter saw this, he began apologizing profusely. We assured him it was fine, we were apparently just weaklings, but he insisted on charging us for only half. It was a nice, if unnecessary, gesture.

                                The service was attentive without hovering, and we felt very welcome and well looked after. We also received 20% off coupons for our next visit. I look forward to returning next time I am in New York---this was definitely the best Thai I've eaten in a long time, possibly ever!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: ChristinaMason
                                  r
                                  Ricky Apr 19, 2011 10:50 AM

                                  OMG I felt like dying after eating the Som Thom too. We told them we used to eat at Zabb in Queens pretty often, and are pretty accustomed to eating Thai spicy. They asked us if we are sure, and we're like yeah. Wrong Move

                                  1. re: Ricky
                                    ChristinaMason Apr 19, 2011 11:30 AM

                                    We asked for "American hot," and I think they may have overestimated our tolerance :)

                                    Ultimately, everything was so good, I really didn't mind.

                                2. k
                                  kathryn Apr 20, 2011 07:09 PM

                                  Stopped in for a late dinner around 9pm. Over ordered but couldn't resist. $33 before tip!

                                  Beef Nam Tok
                                  Fantastic! Got it level 4 but it didn't seem incredibly spicy. Very fresh and flavorful, nice beef, lots of shallot and scallions. Refreshing.

                                  Kana Moo Korb
                                  Sauteed Chinese broccoli with crispy pork
                                  Excellent, lots of garlic, good crispy pork, and very spicy. Almost too spicy for me. Better than Sripraphai's version I might say?

                                  Pla Dook Yang Sadoa Nam Pla Wan
                                  Grilled catfish with Thai herbs, crispy shallot, and sweet fish sauce
                                  Two small catfish, served on the bone, with a bitter herb with lots of stems. This was OK but not great. I thought it was fine, just not fantastic, especially when compared to the two other dishes.

                                  Incredibly sweet service, too. Will be back soon.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: kathryn
                                    s
                                    Simon Apr 20, 2011 08:56 PM

                                    nice...i've been wanting to try that Pla Dook Yang for a while, but i haven't been able to resist ordering a selection of somdams and laabs instead (though i did have the Gai Yang/grilled chicken, which was so yummy and reminescent of Isaan and Chiang Mai)...

                                    Can't wait til weather warms up a bit, and i want to hold a roofdeck Zaab-Elee and chilled wine get-together...

                                    1. re: kathryn
                                      p
                                      Pan Jan 13, 2012 05:44 PM

                                      You have a very high spice tolerance! I have a high tolerance for chilis, and a level 3 is plenty hot enough for me there. When I eat there with my girlfriend, we generally do level 2 1/2, and it's sufficient for me.

                                    2. w
                                      wew Apr 22, 2011 04:45 PM

                                      Put deep base note funk into your meal with the sup nor mai larb - bamboo shoot, must love fermented veggies. I ordered it hot and got it that way.. I ordered to go and found upon arriving at work that the chicken wing I wanted with the laab didn't make the Had the pad ped moo korb. What I had was as good as Queens Thai.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: wew
                                        erica Apr 23, 2011 03:40 AM

                                        We had the same dish the other night--even though I can tolerate spice, I found the smell quite overpowering. Crispy pork with eggplant curry was fabulous,as was "morning glory" with crispy pork.

                                        1. re: erica
                                          w
                                          wew Apr 23, 2011 01:02 PM

                                          It does seem all cuisines have a worth eating item or two with the strong odor of fermentation and rot that presents a hurdle for outsiders. Sripraphai has a sour curry with fish and the same bamboo as here. It is outstanding and but very off-putting nose to it.
                                          Had the chicken wings - small order and of no interest.
                                          Duck stew - same prep as the pork leg - nice

                                      2. DaveCook Apr 23, 2011 06:09 AM

                                        "Have you been to Poodam's?"

                                        This was a question from my waitress after I returned to Zabb Elee for a second meal within a span of several hours. (Pickled garlic kai jiaw on my own, larb with catfish and som tum with preserved crab in the company of out-of-town relatives, all very good.) Poodam's was an Isaan restaurant in Astoria that once was home to the best har moek I've had in New York:

                                        http://www.eatingintranslation.com/20...

                                        Since it closed, I haven't found an equally good steamed curry fish custard in the city. Even though I'd spotted har moek on Zabb Elee's menu, I wasn't ready to risk disappointment by ordering it.

                                        Then the waitress asked her question. Returning to the restaurant the same day, with a small crowd, prompted the chef to pop her head out of the kitchen. To our mutual delight, I found that the former chef-owner of Poodam's is now the chef at the new Zabb Elee.

                                        And now I must get back for that har moek.

                                        -----
                                        Zabb Elee
                                        75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: DaveCook
                                          m
                                          michelleats Apr 25, 2011 05:25 PM

                                          The har gow (similar or the same thing as har moek?) at Zabb Elee is fantastic. It's probably the best version I've eaten, even including those from street markets in Bangkok and Phuket. Very tender, very flavorful. Really a beautiful dish.

                                          -----
                                          Zabb Elee
                                          75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                          1. re: michelleats
                                            m
                                            michelleats Apr 25, 2011 10:10 PM

                                            Har MOK, that is. Like so:

                                             
                                          2. re: DaveCook
                                            annana Jun 22, 2011 06:39 PM

                                            I ate at Poodam's a number of times when I lived in Astoria. We had planned to go for a final time the night before we moved to Brooklyn, only to discover that it had changed its menu and become a run-of-the-mill, Americanized Thai place. A huge disappointment, but not surprising—the building is in a bad spot, a few long blocks off of the beaten path in that neighborhood.

                                            When I read that the former Poodam's chef was cooking at Zabb Elee, I practically fell out of my chair. I've visited twice and and it surpassed my expectations. I'm so thrilled that those incredible larbs are back in my life!

                                            -----
                                            Zabb Elee
                                            75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                          3. h
                                            hungrycomposer Apr 23, 2011 02:28 PM

                                            I just returned from lunch. I ordered larb and it was surprisingly bland, so if you're not Thai, specify that you want it spicy. Since a lot of the spice comes from dried chili, it was easy to rectify once I spoke up, and it was the best larb I've had in Manhattan. I also had the $2 skewer of chicken liver, gizzard, and heart, which was really delicious, with a spicy dipping sauce. The omelet with pork was simple and good. We also got crispy pork on rice, which was a cold dish. It was good but not my favorite, and came with some nice sausage and a small bowl of delicious light soup as well. Next time I'll get som tum and more hot dishes. The menu can be overwhelming, presented on separate large plastic sheets. But the service was really nice and they are open until midnight. What a great asset to the neighborhood, I had all but given up on Thai food in Manhattan. I left with a smile on my face and a menu in my hand and I'll be back soon.

                                            1. h
                                              hungrycomposer Apr 25, 2011 11:22 AM

                                              Last night we couldn't keep away, and returned for dinner. This time a waiter was enormously helpful and suggested the following dishes:
                                              Som Tum muazuar
                                              Papaya, shrimp, BBQ pork, rice noodle, tomato, long bean. And best of all, something suspiciously like chicharrones (fried pork rinds). We ordered a 3 (out of 5) for heat. They tried to talk us into ordering a 2, which I would have found humiliating! 3 was hot but not crazy hot. I could go for a 4, not a 5. 3 still had plenty of flavor, heat, and depth. A generous serving with lots of variety.
                                              Pad ped moo korb
                                              Crispy pork, Thai eggplant, pepper, basil, wild ginger w/spicy curry
                                              This also had fresh pepper - it looked like a tiny version of brussels sprouts on a stalk, but it was fresh peppercorns. A very delicious dry curry. They grind all of their own spices - no pre fab curry paste here.
                                              Nuer Zabb noodle soup
                                              This was a little bit like pho. Tasty beef soup with meatballs and rice noodles. Lots of rice noodles and a gentle, sweet broth. Not the most exciting dish, but a good foil to all of the heat.

                                              Having the waiter help us made an enormous difference. Isaan food is so different and their separate giant menus can be a little baffling (especially when you're hungry).

                                              At first I thought Zabb Elee was a great Thai restaurant by Manhattan standards. Now I think they are a great Thai restaurant by any standards. I'm thrilled to have them in the neighborhood, and it's exciting to discover Isaan cuisine.

                                               
                                               
                                               
                                               
                                              1. c
                                                comiendosiempre Apr 25, 2011 04:16 PM

                                                We also returned again with a group the other night. We had some great dishes. The shredded papaya with shrimp, served spicy, I guess a four, is excellent. Could have it for lunch nearly most days. The pork with eggplant, also pictured, is likewise excellent. We ordered two of those. Could eat that too most days. We also had the water spinach with pork and that is a great dish. We did have one of the veggie dishes with fermented fish sauce that to this farang was just way too intense. I asked about it and the waitress said they marinate the veggie in fish sauce for a couple of days. We smelled the dish before it hit the table. The grilled chicken was also very good, simple but full of flavor.

                                                I think that right now ice cream may be their only dessert option. I asked and was told that they are waiting for the mangoes to be "good and ripe" before they start serving mango with sticky rice, which impressed me.

                                                On the libation front, their wine list is small but reasonable. A few bottles in the low twenties. Of note, I think their beers are all six dollars each, which I think is expensive all things considered. Yet they have a large selection, including Lao beer, which I have seen only rarely.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: comiendosiempre
                                                  h
                                                  hungrycomposer Apr 25, 2011 06:17 PM

                                                  Last night they had pumpkin in tapioca for dessert. They also had ice cream. I didn't try either one.

                                                  What's the veggie in fermented fish sauce called on the menu? I'd love to try it.

                                                  At the risk of sounding obsessive, I photographed my check so I could remember the names of the dishes since I'm not familiar with the Isaan style Thai food.

                                                  And thanks so much for your original post, comiendosiempre. I saw the name "Zabb" and assumed it was another mediocre Thai restaurant brought to you by the folks on 13th and 2nd. This more than makes up for the disappointment of Lotus of Siam!

                                                   
                                                  1. re: hungrycomposer
                                                    c
                                                    comiendosiempre Apr 25, 2011 06:36 PM

                                                    It was the bamboo shoots, mentioned above. My wife like it but I, like some others, couldn't get past the heavy fish sauce smell and taste. It was sort of like fish sauce squared. The omelet ordered also was very good. We also saw a very good looking bowl of spicy soup, a bit like a tom yum; we will want to try that next time.

                                                    1. re: comiendosiempre
                                                      erica Apr 27, 2011 12:24 PM

                                                      Vaguely related article in today's NY Times; note that I am NOT suggesting that anything on the menu here is dangerous in any way:

                                                      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/wor...

                                                2. m
                                                  michelleats Apr 27, 2011 10:30 AM

                                                  Not that this board really needs more reports on Zabb Elee right now, but I'll add to the pile, anyway.

                                                  Photos here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/04/z...

                                                  ---

                                                  A fellow Chowhound and I stopped by for a meal, recently. Since it's a quintessential Isan dish and a specialty at Zabb Elee, we knew we had to order some sort of papaya salad and went with the som tum poo plara / papaya salad with preserved crab and pickled fish ($8). We had the choice of adjusting the spice level from one to five. Not wanting to seem like weenies, we opted for what we thought would be a safe, middling level 3. Boy am I glad we didn't go for level 5. Level 3 had me sweating profusely and crying -- but in a good way. The dish was excellent. It was a perfect balance of pungent, acidic, (barely) sweet and salty, with a mix of crunchy, good quality vegetables and some pieces of perfectly fried, non-greasy pork rind on the side. Diced tomatoes were mostly hard, wintry ones, but the kitchen made up for it by including juicy, ripe grape tomatoes in the mix, as well. I had a hard time eating the preserved crab, since I wasn't sure how to go about getting the innards without a pick. But what I sucked out of the legs was nicely gelatinous and flavorful. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat -- but maybe at level 2. :

                                                  )

                                                  I think hor mok might be more of a southern Thai dish than an Isan dish, but some of my fondest food memories of Thailand relate to scarfing down order after order of hor mok in a outdoor markets in Bangkok and Phuket. I'd had a decent, but not wonderful, version at Sripraphai a few weeks ago and wanted to see how Zabb Elee's would compare. I'm glad I tried it. Zabb Elee's hor mok / Thai curry fish custard wrapped in banana leaf ($11; pictured at the top of this post) was fantastic, really one of the best versions I've had anywhere in the world. The custard was very tender and fragrant, without any "fishiness" and with just a light touch of coconut milk (which acted as a nice foil for the heat). At the bottom, there were delicious, tender sweet basil leaves and a bit of what tasted to me like very soft, cooked cabbage, which added a nice texture to the dish.

                                                  Our waitress recommended trying the pad tua / sauteed bean sprouts with crispy pork and fresh chili ($7). This was another milder dish that helped us keep from internally combusting after bites of the papaya salad. Bean sprouts were very fresh, white, and crisp, cooked with a little bit of bite left. The crispy pork -- thickly cut strips of I think pork belly -- was initially really quite crispy and fantastic, though it was a time limited ingredient: It became a rubbery as it sat in the moist dish. The sweetness of the dish also helped temper the heat. I'm not sure about the geographic origins of this dish. I know pork belly and fatty cuts are popular in the northeast.

                                                  My dining companion ordered the larb pla korb / crispy whole Thai tilapia with shallot, mint, cilantro, and chili lime dressing ($14), which was a substantial size, meaty, and served with beautiful, blackened skin and a spicy, sour dipping sauce. I'm not usually a huge fan of tilapia, but this preparation was not "muddy" tasting and the dipping sauce really enlivened the fish. (It reminded me oddly of Africa Kine's Senegalese rendition.) Green herbs had been stuffed into, and cooked in, the cavity of the fish.

                                                  Great meal. There is much, much more of the menu I want to try. If anyone has specific suggestions, please throw them my way.

                                                  -----
                                                  Africa Kine
                                                  256 W 116th St, New York, NY 10026

                                                  Zabb Elee
                                                  75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: michelleats
                                                    r
                                                    rrems May 10, 2011 07:46 PM

                                                    Had the hor mok the other night. I'm so glad it was mentioned here as I probably would not have noticed it otherwise. It was amazing! I could eat a ton of it, it was so light and delicate.

                                                    1. re: rrems
                                                      s
                                                      Simon May 10, 2011 08:15 PM

                                                      agreed...(i was planning posting the same thing)...hor mok is not a dish i usually order and i wouldn't have ever thought to order it in an Isaan place if it hadn't been mentioned here...but it's wonderful at ZE...lightly spicy, w/ the consistency and color of pumpkin pie...and a nice contrast to the crunchy somdams and other raw food dishes...

                                                      1. re: rrems
                                                        m
                                                        michelleats May 13, 2011 09:06 AM

                                                        I'm so happy you both enjoyed the hor mok! It probably ranks among my top 10 favorite things to eat and Zabb Elee does a great rendition. Their version is very mild, I think because it's made in advance, they can't adjust the heat to taste, and they don't want to spice anyone out of the equation. But what a great foil -- not just texture-wise -- to that very spicy som tum!

                                                        -----
                                                        Zabb Elee
                                                        75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                    2. s
                                                      small h May 3, 2011 10:06 AM

                                                      I stopped in with a friend last night to check this place out. I had the Som Tum Korat (level 3). It was certainly the best papaya salad I can remember eating, but I guess I'm just not someone who does cartwheels about papaya salad. I ordered it specifically because it supposedly contained pickled fish; I couldn't find any pickled fish. It was also hard to taste much through the heat.

                                                      My friend had the Larb Moo Korb, which he liked a lot. And we split the Pukk Boong Fai Dang, which tasted like any ol' heavily salted green vegetable. I thought morning glory would be a bit more exciting. I also ordered sticky rice, even though I couldn't remember whether I liked sticky rice or not. I don't. It's like gum.

                                                      All this is not to say I did not have a fine time and a nice meal. But the posts on this thread led me to believe I would have some sort of culinary revelation here. I didn't. I'd certainly go back, though, and maybe try something a little more unusual, like the snakehead fish.

                                                      16 Replies
                                                      1. re: small h
                                                        m
                                                        michelleats May 4, 2011 06:56 AM

                                                        The preserved fish is in the dressing for the papaya salad, I think. You can smell the pungency. There weren't any fish chunks in my preserved fish and crab papaya salad, either.

                                                        Re: morning glories... Yeah, the first time I ordered them in THailand I was really disappointed to not see pretty purple sauteed flowers on my plate, too -- but it's always going to be the greens. It's a good side to have alongside other dishes because the slight bitterness helps offset the sweetness in some other dishes.

                                                        I guess this menu might be difficult for you to order from, since (I think) you are pescatarian. So many of the dishes have pork or other mammalian meat tucked away in them, in some form. Maybe if you go again, try the hor mok. I don't think it fits in with the restaurant's regional specialization, but it's really well made, there.

                                                        1. re: michelleats
                                                          s
                                                          small h May 4, 2011 07:10 AM

                                                          You're right about my dietary preferences, but I was actually very pleased to see that I had so many options (although an actual vegetarian would have troubles). I did notice the bitterness of the morning glories, which reminded me of limp broccoli rabe. I'll keep your hor mok advice in mind - thanks. And if any other peskies are reading this: that crispy tan strip that comes on your salad is not a rice cake or a shrimp puff. Learn from my mistake and do not taste it to see what it is. It is a pork rind.

                                                          1. re: small h
                                                            m
                                                            michelleats May 4, 2011 10:03 AM

                                                            It's pork rind from the little-known pig fish.

                                                            (Ok, you're right: It'd probably be a good idea for the restaurant to give fair warning on the menu. There are lots of people who avoid pork.)

                                                          2. re: michelleats
                                                            p
                                                            Pan Jan 13, 2012 05:48 PM

                                                            I have to say, this is one version of Som Tom I can't deal with. The fermented fish was really too putrid (not in smell but taste) for me. That's OK: More for someone else. And as I recall, there were plenty of chunks of it when I got some, several months ago.

                                                            1. re: Pan
                                                              f
                                                              foodwhisperer Jan 13, 2012 09:17 PM

                                                              Pan
                                                              I cant figure out what restaurant you are referring too , that's better than Zaab Elee.

                                                              1. re: foodwhisperer
                                                                p
                                                                Pan Jan 14, 2012 06:06 AM

                                                                I didn't refer to any other restaurant here, but elsewhere in the thread, I said I like Chao Thai in Elmhurst better for Isaan food and the "Secret Thai" and actual Thai-language menus at Wondee Siam better for overall Thai food in Manhattan.

                                                                1. re: Pan
                                                                  l
                                                                  Lau Jan 14, 2012 12:44 PM

                                                                  very interesting about Wondee Siam, i've been there a long time ago, but i didnt know about the secret menu, do they give you the secret menu? or what do you have to do to get it?

                                                                  1. re: Lau
                                                                    p
                                                                    Pan Jan 14, 2012 02:06 PM

                                                                    The "Secret Thai" menu in English is provided just for the asking. I have seen the longer actual Thai-language menu only twice, and unfortunately, I don't read Thai and they won't translate every dish for me, so I'm dependent on whatever they feel like recommending.

                                                                    1. re: Pan
                                                                      l
                                                                      Lau Jan 14, 2012 03:05 PM

                                                                      ah interesting, what did you ask them exactly? like can i see the other menu?

                                                                      1. re: Lau
                                                                        p
                                                                        Pan Jan 14, 2012 03:50 PM

                                                                        I ask for the Secret Thai menu by name if they don't bring it out right away, and I also ask for the Thai-language menu and ask for some recommendations from it. It's really too long for them to translate every dish name orally.

                                                                        1. re: Pan
                                                                          l
                                                                          Lau Jan 14, 2012 04:43 PM

                                                                          its this one right?

                                                                          http://www.yelp.com/biz/wondee-siam-n...

                                                                          1. re: Lau
                                                                            p
                                                                            Pan Jan 14, 2012 05:44 PM

                                                                            Yes, only that one. A waiter there told me I wouldn't like Wondee II, because it caters to Americans and is sweet and not very spicy - just what you and I want to avoid.

                                                                        2. re: Lau
                                                                          squid kun Jan 15, 2012 09:10 AM

                                                                          There's a link to the "secret menu" of a couple years ago here ... http://www.chow.com/digest/7923/true-...

                                                                          -----
                                                                          Wondee Siam
                                                                          792 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

                                                            2. re: small h
                                                              s
                                                              Simon May 5, 2011 07:52 PM

                                                              the "pickled fish" is a translation error on their part -- what i believe they mean is "fermented fish sauce -- i.e. 'pla-ra' "...

                                                              1. re: Simon
                                                                s
                                                                small h May 10, 2011 01:31 AM

                                                                Aha! Thanks. It was disappointing for a pickled fish fan like myself, to order it and not get it.

                                                                1. re: Simon
                                                                  n
                                                                  nattythecook Oct 13, 2011 07:46 PM

                                                                  Pickled fish is 'pla rah' or fresh fish that is fermented with toasted rice and salt. Fish sauce is 'nam pla' or fish juice literally.

                                                              2. u
                                                                UES Mayor May 4, 2011 03:49 AM

                                                                Just tried last night-won't bore you with what I had but just wanted to chime in and agree that food was downright fantastic. Not a fancy place-but very comfortable. I think it would be a great place for a small group gathering. Extremely savory dishes but use caution when ordering heat level-can be blistering hot and I normally love very spicy food. Next time will order chilis on the side and add to food if I need more heat.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: UES Mayor
                                                                  b
                                                                  bob192 May 9, 2011 05:23 AM

                                                                  Couldn't agree more with the enthusiastic reviews above - arrived Saturday at about 1pm, only other table was an enthusiastic family of four. Started with the chicken liver skewer, and marinated chicken wings, something mild, just in case. Wings had two mild sauces (they added two fresh cups when they packed the rest up to go) and the chicken skewer sauce, being rather more potent, was smeared on top to good effect for takeaway. Then had the crispy pork with little Thai eggplants and basiI, and it was superb! I asked for "American spicy", which is how most dishes were presented, and I'll have to ramp it up a notch when I go back, didn't quite work up a glisten, much less a sweat. That, and a Lao beer made for quite a satisfying lunch. Went back Sunday, and was one of onlt three patrons the whole meal - people, PLEASE support this place, it's the real deal! Had duck larb, and pork spare ribs soup with mushrooms, both satisfying, then sauteed Chinese broccoli with crispy pork in a garlic sauce, again superb, easily enough pork to be a main dish, my new favorite greens dish in NYC, and then asked about the har mok, the curry fish custard, as I've always enjoyed the little fish cakes sometimes found (in the 40s- low 50s?) at the Ninth Avenue Food fest , asking if it was a good dish to go. The lovely waitress assured me it was, giving preparation instructions for the next day. To my surprise, they then brought out a plated har mok after the broccoli, so I said to heck with later, and dug right in. Sublime and delicious, which I relayed to the waitress. Another Lao beer, and another truly delicious and satisfying meal, with plenty of leftovers. When I opened the sack for dinner last night, to my surprise, there was a tub containing another har mok, gratis! Wow, what a place. 2nd Avenue at 4th Street, do drop in. They have a good delivery range too, call 212-505-9533

                                                                  1. re: bob192
                                                                    t
                                                                    tpigeon May 9, 2011 05:41 AM

                                                                    Sounds like they need anthony bourdain to drop in.

                                                                    I am excited to go here for my next trip to nyc.

                                                                    1. re: bob192
                                                                      howdini May 16, 2011 06:09 AM

                                                                      Hi, Bob,

                                                                      I think they're doing a bumpin' dinner service, but that they're just slow during lunch. I've been there a few times, only at lunch, and I've been one of only two or three customers in the place. I think they're gonna do just fine!

                                                                  2. janethepain May 9, 2011 09:38 AM

                                                                    Was really excited to go to this place, so when we needed a place for a meet-the-parents place, this was it.

                                                                    There were five of us so we ordered a bunch of dishes. Except for one, we ordered everything medium-spicy. BOY. We all eat spicy food (my parents and I are Korean), but everyone had to order a Thai iced tea to cool down our mouths. So unless you eat fire, medium-spicy is likely good enough for you.

                                                                    We tried the pork/Thai eggplant dish, papaya salad, som gang (?), pork/ear/liver laarb and the soup with pork leg. The papaya salad serving is huge, enough for five people as a starter. I was really excited about it, but I actually thought it wasn't as interesting as Sri's?? Obviously, I'd expect this place's to be amazing since it's Isaan, but I thought it was a bit unbalanced, heavy on the salt, not enough on the lime. And be careful - a lot of us blew ourselves out on the first bite because we chomped down on some incendiary dried chilis.

                                                                    The pork/pig ear/pig liver laarb everyone agreed was good. Love pig ears, and the liver makes for a nice full flavor. The pork leg soup I thought was ok, not as good as Sri's tom zapp, I thought.

                                                                    Overall, I thought it was a cool place since the dishes are different from your typical Thai joint, but for some things like the salad and the tom zap, I actually preferred Sri's. Strange.

                                                                    The waitstaff is very nice and like to point out the highlights of the menu. Serving sizes are normal to big. There was hardly anyone in there when we came in on 7:30pm Saturday, but started to fill up by the time we left.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: janethepain
                                                                      s
                                                                      Simon May 9, 2011 02:43 PM

                                                                      hi jane...glad you enjoyed Zaab-Elee...but i'm gonna have to disagree strongly re: ZE's papaya salad vs Sri...

                                                                      ZE offers 8 or so different varieties and has authentic ingredients which Sri does not even have on the menu nor even in the kitchen off-the-menu (e.g. bla-ra)...Sri offers a mediocre, not-mixed-very-well papaya salad...not even close...i'd rec trying one or two different ones on your next Z-E visit as the variety is wonderful...

                                                                      1. re: Simon
                                                                        t
                                                                        tex.s.toast May 9, 2011 07:06 PM

                                                                        just because it is a specialty doesn't mean they make it perfectly every time . . . im a HUGE fan of som tam (like, i would eat it 6 days a week in bangkok) and while im impressed with the variety of options available at ZE the basic som tam thai we got a couple weeks ago was lacking a little in terms of balance as well - i thought it was not lime-y enough either. Im definitely going to keep trying.

                                                                        as a side note to jane - they use fresh chilis in the som tam, and while they are pounded out they were pretty easily identified, errantly chomping on one is definitely not advisable.

                                                                        1. re: tex.s.toast
                                                                          s
                                                                          Simon May 9, 2011 07:12 PM

                                                                          true, somdam is a very analog kind of dish, and it's going to vary every time...but re: Zaab-Elee vs All-Other-Places, the primary difference is that ZE actually *has* the necessary ingredients in the kitchen, which the other places do not...but true, in terms of each batch mixed, your mileage may vary :)

                                                                    2. k
                                                                      kathryn May 9, 2011 07:10 PM

                                                                      Stopped in for dinner at 8:30pm and the place was 90% full; people who arrived after us had a short wait. There was a single large party taking up half the restaurant. The pork larb was excellent. Not all heat -- but lots of flavor, very minty, and perhaps more nuanced than Sri's? Beef Nam Tok just as delicious as previous visit.

                                                                      $25 for two dishes including taxes and a generous tip. I can't believe what a great value this place is.

                                                                      PS their delivery range is:
                                                                      18th Street to Delancey
                                                                      5th Ave to Avenue D

                                                                      1. l
                                                                        Lau May 10, 2011 07:34 PM

                                                                        comiendosiempre - here's my full post, after going there twice, I agree with you this is the best thai i've had so far in NY. Great find, thanks!

                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/783868

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Lau
                                                                          Peter Cuce Sep 5, 2011 06:38 AM

                                                                          Lau, have you been to Chao Thai in Elmhurst?

                                                                          1. re: Peter Cuce
                                                                            l
                                                                            Lau Sep 5, 2011 05:52 PM

                                                                            i have not, i know about it and i see it when im on the LIRR...definitely want to try it though ive heard good things

                                                                            how do u like it?

                                                                            1. re: Lau
                                                                              p
                                                                              Pan Jan 13, 2012 05:49 PM

                                                                              You need to try it, Lau, if you haven't by now. It's a great place, and I do think it's better than Zaab Elee.

                                                                              1. re: Pan
                                                                                l
                                                                                Lau Jan 13, 2012 07:20 PM

                                                                                i will for sure

                                                                        2. r
                                                                          roderickhazardplain May 12, 2011 07:38 PM

                                                                          went here for the second time tonight; had been there a month ago. it was packed. such that they actually seemed overwhelmed by the demand. the servers seemed harried, and we were brought dishes that we had to re-direct to other tables. which made me really happy because we want them to succeed. also, we ordered the som tum muazuar (bbq pork, shrimp) but got the kortmuar, with sausage and crispy fish. we only realized this later, and we didn't care.

                                                                          because it was all good. the kra pao moo korb (crispy pork + lots of basil) was all sweet, caramelized fat, oyster sauce depth, and lightening aromatics. its burn was pronounced and entirely distinguishable from that of the som tum, which was an instant sheet of fire in the mouth, against the pork's intense smolder. the duck larb was well-balanced, and had unexpected crunch from crisped duck fat. deferring to a spice-averse dining companion, we ordered mild, but still got blasted by the som tum, which of course was all part of the fun.

                                                                          anyways,the food at this place is well-documented at this point, but the atmosphere was quirky in a very real way, with a breathless feel of sudden popularity. very high turnover. we were slow and had tables changing around us. in any case, some people may have taken points off for the service, but at the prices you're paying for the quality you're getting, whatever. will be back soon.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: roderickhazardplain
                                                                            s
                                                                            Simon May 12, 2011 07:58 PM

                                                                            delighted to hear that they are generating heat in more than one way...(and delighted for myself that i moved back to NYC -- and within delivery range of ZE -- at just the right time :)

                                                                            1. re: roderickhazardplain
                                                                              k
                                                                              kathryn May 12, 2011 09:32 PM

                                                                              Serious Eats just gave them a very, very positive writeup:
                                                                              http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2011/0...

                                                                              1. re: roderickhazardplain
                                                                                p
                                                                                peter j May 13, 2011 07:37 AM

                                                                                Thanks for mentioning the kra pao moo korb and the duck larb. I really enjoyed them during my first visit last night.

                                                                                1. re: peter j
                                                                                  s
                                                                                  Simon May 13, 2011 04:29 PM

                                                                                  every time i read a new post on this thread, it reminds me how good the food is and i end up picking up the phone and ordering delivery...just did it again...

                                                                              2. m
                                                                                michelleats May 15, 2011 10:10 PM

                                                                                If you aren't too sick of Zabb Elee reviews, yet, here's another. Accompanying photos are here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/05/z...

                                                                                On a recent, beautiful May evening, I went back to Zabb Elee. My dining companion and I arrived early, at around 6 p.m. on a weekday, and already, the restaurant was packed. It only became more so as the evening progressed and the line of diners waiting to be seated snaked out the door.

                                                                                A friendly waitress / hostess / bar tender seated us at the bar so we wouldn't have to wait -- at least not for a seat. Throughout the meal, though, we did wait... and wait... and wait... and wait, first for someone to give us a menu, then for someone to take our order, bring our food, bring utensils to eat with, bring water.... And after that, we waited a long, long while for someone to clear the plates, bring the check, pack our leftovers, etc... It was not an isolated problem. Diners were coming up to the bar to refill their own water glasses (a must to survive the heat of some of these dishes), retrieve a credit card, even to bus their own dirty dishes as some took pity on the harried, overworked staff. A meal that ought to've lasted an hour or an hour and a half at most ended up lasting nearly three hours because of all the delays. The two women working the front of the house were working their tails off, as I'm sure the kitchen was, in the back. But there was a sense of chaotic, hectic, almost desperate disorder to it all. The restaurant has become so popular within such a short time that it really, really ought to hire more help for the dinner shift, at least.

                                                                                Happily, the food was good enough that it mostly made up for the long waits.

                                                                                This time, no one asked us what spice level we wanted. Everything that was supposed to be spicy came out at what I'd approximate as level two (on the restaurant's scale of one to five), except the som tum korat, which was more a level three or four.

                                                                                We completely and ridiculously over-ordered for two, something we quickly realized after all our dishes showed up at the same time, leaving us with almost no space on the bar for our small plates. The larb kai / ground chicken with shallot, fresh mint, scallion, cilantro, chili powder and lime dressing was overcooked, and not just by Lao/Thai standards, which call for the meat to be halfway raw in this dish, if it's cooked at all. This chicken was tough and dry, but it was so beautifully dressed with a good balance of salty, sweet, pungent and acidic, and a generous handful of red bird chiles thrown in for good measure, that it was enjoyable to eat, anyway, especially with Zabb Elee's good, sticky rice.

                                                                                Yum koon chieng / salad of sweet sausage sauteed with shallot, celery, tomato, pickled garlic, fresh chili and lime juice (pictured at the top of this post) was my dining companion's favorite. The dish is of Chinese derivation and the hard, sweet sausage is very similar or identical to Chinese la chang (臘腸). It actually got better with age. Over the several days it took us to finish the leftovers, the sausage became pleasantly soft in the acidic dressing. I usually find the sweetness of this type of sausage overpowering by itself or with just rice, but the sour, salty, spicy dressing was a good counterbalance to the sweetness. I didn't detect any celery in this dish.

                                                                                Rather than repeat the papaya salad with preserved crab I had last time, we tried the som tum korat / papaya salad with peanut, Thai eggplant, pickled fish, tomato, dried shrimp and chili. This innocuous-sounding salad was blistering hot -- so hot that it took us four more days of dedicated effort to work our way through the leftovers. I could only eat a few bites at a time before the heat became overwhelming for me... but I really, really enjoyed the salad. The vegetables (thinly julienned papaya and eggplant, and a few bits of long bean) were crisp and fresh, though it's clear that the salad had been made a while in advance, since the dressing had thoroughly infused the papaya. The spice, though intense, was also very flavorful. My only nitpick was that many of the toasted peanuts in the dish were burnt and bitter.

                                                                                A dish of pukk boong moo korb / sauteed morning glory with crispy pork was more disappointing. We'd actually asked for pukk boong fai dang / sauteed morning glory and fresh chili, but they brought out the version with pork, instead (and charged us accordingly). Our waitress explained that they were running low on morning glory greens, so had to mix it with pork to stretch the supply. Unfortunately, with all our other dishes, it made for an overly meat-heavy meal. The version of the dish we were served was also almost inedibly salty and cloyingly sweet at the same time. The crispy pork was in fact crispy at first, but quickly became hard and rubbery and unpleasant with prolonged contact with the dish's moist ingredients. Spicing was uneven: Some bites were intensely, nearly unbearably spicy, while others were not spicy at all.

                                                                                The kai kiaw chai poo / sweet radish omelet was another menu offering that was weak in the execution, on the evening we went. I adore this simple homestyle dish and almost always order it when I see it on a menu, so it was especially disappointing that the one brought to our table was overcooked. Much of the omelet was extremely rubbery and hard, fried to a deep brown that verged on being burnt. It served its purpose of helping temper some of the heat from the other dishes, but it could've been made so much more deliciously than it was.

                                                                                Our final dish, the nuer yang / grilled marinated beef with garlic pepper lime dip (which I forgot to photograph -- sorry), was admirably tender. It had a pleasant natural smoky taste from the grill and though it was overly sweet by itself, it was perfect with the zippy, acidic sauce.

                                                                                All in all, it is clear that Zabb Elee's kitchen is powered by at least one chef with a tremendous amount of talent. Most of the weak points of this meal were probably the result of a harried kitchen having to watch too many pots at the same time and a harried front-of-the-house having to watch too many tables at the same time. Hopefully these issues will smooth themselves out over time. I'm awfully happy to see this restaurant garnering as much praise as it has, since it is well deserved. But I hope for their sake as well as for their customers that they find some additional help to manage the dinner rush, quickly. At this point, I doubt the mad rush to eat there will abate anytime soon.

                                                                                -----
                                                                                Zabb Elee
                                                                                75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                13 Replies
                                                                                1. re: michelleats
                                                                                  s
                                                                                  Simon May 17, 2011 06:32 PM

                                                                                  i chatted w/ the (Latino) delivery guy when he brought my Zaab-Elee order last night...i thanked him for the speedy delivery and asked him if he knew he was working for an amazing place: the best Thai food in Manhattan -- he said it's been crazily busy recently, and he seemed happy to be part of the success, yet a tiny bit perplexed by all the commotion...

                                                                                  1. re: Simon
                                                                                    Miss Needle May 17, 2011 07:16 PM

                                                                                    That's great news to hear that they are busy. When I was there, it was relatively quiet. In addition, I witnessed two parties leaving after a couple of minutes of perusing the menu because they didn't find anything that they wanted. Hopefully they'll be around for a long time.

                                                                                    1. re: Miss Needle
                                                                                      r
                                                                                      rschwim May 17, 2011 07:42 PM

                                                                                      Went last night (Monday) with a group of four around 6:30. No problem getting seating... The food was great... the waitress was very nice and helpful but a bit scrambled even when things weren't that busy. Nevertheless great food and a fine night... Next time my son and I are going to step it up a notch or two heat wise...

                                                                                    2. re: Simon
                                                                                      m
                                                                                      michelleats May 17, 2011 10:39 PM

                                                                                      One of our waitresses told us things had really started getting hectic in the two weeks before. She seemed really surprised, too. (I didn't tell her it was probably in large part comiendosiempre's fault!)

                                                                                      Wish I had the option of delivery. You've probably been able to try a big part of the menu. Any lesser-known favorites you'd recommend?

                                                                                      1. re: michelleats
                                                                                        s
                                                                                        Simon May 18, 2011 08:30 AM

                                                                                        hi...since i'd been waiting so long for Manhattan just to get a decent somdam, i haven't explored the menu too too much yet, as it's so tempting to re-order standards/favorites...but i do try to order at least one item i haven't tried before w/ each order...

                                                                                        my newest fav is the Sai Kroog Esan (Isan sausage), which is a steal for 6 bucks and has a nice sweetness to it...

                                                                                        my fav papaya salad is the Somdam Korat...(which is similar to a Somdam Thai, except w/ pla-ra added)...and the laab pla-duk (catfish salad), kai yang (grilled chicken), and hor mok are my other regular rotation dishes...

                                                                                        surprisingly, the one dish so far that i didn't care for was the laab moo...i found it too sweet, too fatty, and too full of those tendony/gelatiny strips -- all of those qualities are not inauthentic: some Thai's like it exactly that way -- the Isaan stand in the grungier of the two food courts at MBK mall in Bangkok makes it pretty much exactly that way...but the dish can vary a lot in Thailand...at other places, in Isaan or at Isaan restaurants in other parts of the country might cook it like that...or they might make a non-sweet fiery version w/ leaner ground pork and bits of pork innards...my personal preference is the latter...a flawed analogy might be to different varieties of hamburgers in the US: a Los Angeles greasy-addictive Carneys/Tomy's-style burger w/ orange chili vs prime-meat burger from Shake Shack...

                                                                                        1. re: Simon
                                                                                          m
                                                                                          michelleats May 18, 2011 01:01 PM

                                                                                          I do want to try more of the larbs (and incidentally love larb moo with all the nasty bits included). Thanks for the recs!

                                                                                          The nuer soup hungrycomposer had sounds pretty good, too. I think you can tell so much about how much attention a restaurant pays to detail by trying their soups.

                                                                                          1. re: michelleats
                                                                                            s
                                                                                            Simon May 18, 2011 05:00 PM

                                                                                            i like your litmus test for restaurants re: attention to soups...that's one of reasons that Scarpetta is in my Top Five in NYC...the soups are invariably brightly seasonal and exquisitely prepared...

                                                                                            -----
                                                                                            Scarpetta
                                                                                            355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

                                                                                        2. re: michelleats
                                                                                          r
                                                                                          rrems May 24, 2011 07:13 AM

                                                                                          <Wish I had the option of delivery. >

                                                                                          I don't know how far beyond their stated delivery area they will go, but I am 2 crosstown blocks west of 5th, and they delivered to me for a $3 fee. You should ask if they will do that for you. The food arrived in 30 minutes and was as fresh as at the restaurant.

                                                                                          1. re: rrems
                                                                                            m
                                                                                            michelleats May 24, 2011 07:29 AM

                                                                                            !! Thanks, rrems!! I'm a bit further west than that, but I'll certainly call to ask!

                                                                                            1. re: rrems
                                                                                              k
                                                                                              kathryn May 24, 2011 08:15 AM

                                                                                              Great news!

                                                                                              1. re: rrems
                                                                                                m
                                                                                                michelleats May 24, 2011 03:59 PM

                                                                                                Rrems, I owe you one! They DO deliver to me (a side street off 7th Ave) for a mere $3 delivery fee. So guess where dinner's coming from, tonight?

                                                                                                Thanks so much for the tip!

                                                                                                1. re: michelleats
                                                                                                  s
                                                                                                  Simon May 24, 2011 05:36 PM

                                                                                                  *like*

                                                                                                2. re: rrems
                                                                                                  k
                                                                                                  kathryn May 26, 2011 06:57 PM

                                                                                                  Thanks so much for this info. Ordered the duck larb, Chinese broccoli with crispy pork, and beef nam tok. They brought it to just west of 6th in about 35 minutes -- there didn't appear to be a fee on the ticket either. Dinner was awesome.

                                                                                          2. b
                                                                                            Barcelonian May 18, 2011 11:22 AM

                                                                                            I thought you might all both enjoy and disagree with this:

                                                                                            http://www.zagat.com/buzz/8-best-thai...

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Barcelonian
                                                                                              ChiefHDB May 18, 2011 12:03 PM

                                                                                              Whoever said "Thai-no-mite" in that article deserves to be maced.

                                                                                              To add some relevancy: I've been to Zaab Elee a couple times for lunch. Haven't ordered that widely, but would recommend the dried shrimp salad and the extremely cheap chicken offal skewer.

                                                                                            2. thew May 24, 2011 07:51 PM

                                                                                              went tonight with 2 friends. totally loved the place. had pad thai. (kidding)

                                                                                              had the som tam with the crabs and pickled fish, the duck laarb, the crispy pork (pad ped moo korb), and i asked the waitress what shrimp she likes best - she asked if we would ewat the shrimp raw. i said yes. she served the pla goong, but w/out steaming the shrimp 1st. And sticky rice

                                                                                              the som tom was spicy and flavorful and very much thai hot (repeat after me - mai farang pet, thai pet) almost too hot for one of the 3 of us.

                                                                                              the duck laarb came out next, and it was rich, with a good texture, and great spicing. not much heat, but deep.

                                                                                              the pork. oh the pork. this dish was amazing. so good. we were all rolling balls of sticky rice to sweep through the juices when the plate when emptied. I could eat that dish almost every day.

                                                                                              and the shrimp (SO GOOOD) light bright and a perfect way to reset the palate. the mint , aganst the crunch of garlic- mmmm

                                                                                              had a lao beer, and we had some sort of pumpkin coconut tapioca custard soup for dessert. much better than the way i made it sound.

                                                                                              love this place.

                                                                                              -----
                                                                                              Zabb Elee
                                                                                              75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: thew
                                                                                                t
                                                                                                tpigeon May 24, 2011 09:18 PM

                                                                                                Great news they finally saw the light and are serving pad thai.

                                                                                                1. re: thew
                                                                                                  s
                                                                                                  Simon May 24, 2011 09:34 PM

                                                                                                  cool...i will try the raw shrimp dish soon...

                                                                                                  1. re: thew
                                                                                                    howdini May 24, 2011 10:49 PM

                                                                                                    That shrimp dish sounds interesting! I keep going back and I order new items, but man: that pad ped moo korb is really something else, and I absolutely agree: I could eat it every day. The peppercorns on the stem are SO FRICKIN' GOOD!!!! I try mightily to get a couple in every forkful.

                                                                                                    1. re: thew
                                                                                                      m
                                                                                                      michelleats May 25, 2011 09:30 AM

                                                                                                      Thew, did you try 5 for the som tam? They've stopped asking us what level of heat we want when we order and I think their default is something like a 3 or 4. It's the only very incendiary dish that comes that way by default on the menu, though, I think.

                                                                                                      I have to concur with Howdini: That raw shrimp dish sounds really interesting! They also have a raw pork liver larb, which we tried last night. It's probably not for everyone, but I thought the slippery texture, balance of acid and heat, and that funky, unobscured tasted of pork liver all worked together nicely.

                                                                                                      Also tried the chicken offal skewer ChiefHDB mentioned a few posts up. It's plain on its own -- salted, not otherwise seasoned, I don't think -- but fantastic with the tamarind dipping sauce.

                                                                                                      On the down side, hor mok was disappointing this time and wasn't as custardy or silky as it's been in the past, and I wasn't a huge fan of the very sweet "dark broth" soup with morning glory, bean sprouts and a few meatballs. It was on the verge of being cloying. (I think it's also not really an Isaan specialty.) The lemongrass broth soups might more to my tastes, especially since the weather's getting warmer.

                                                                                                      Amongst us, we're making pretty good progress on trying every item on the menu. Hope everyone continues to report back, especially on dishes no one's mentioned, before.

                                                                                                      (A few pics of above mentioned dishes, here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/05/z...)

                                                                                                      1. re: michelleats
                                                                                                        thew May 25, 2011 11:02 AM

                                                                                                        i didnt discuss numbers - i told her in thai that i did not want foreigner spicy i wanted thai spicy

                                                                                                    2. s
                                                                                                      Simon May 26, 2011 01:51 PM

                                                                                                      Had a picnic w/ a Thai girl and i brought takeout Zaab-Elee as the food...

                                                                                                      Somdam Korat, Laab Pla-duk, Khao Nio, Sai Kroog Esan, Kai Yang: $40

                                                                                                      Bottle of Rose Wine from Astor Wines: $16

                                                                                                      Her Surprised Smile When She Tasted Real Isaan Food in Manhattan: Priceless

                                                                                                      1. w
                                                                                                        windycity May 29, 2011 04:12 PM

                                                                                                        I don't get the love for Zabb City. Went there was was quite underwhelmed, didn't even finish my leftovers.

                                                                                                        -----
                                                                                                        Zabb City
                                                                                                        244 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: windycity
                                                                                                          k
                                                                                                          kathryn May 29, 2011 04:23 PM

                                                                                                          Zabb Elee is on 2nd Avenue and 4th St. The former chef-owner of Poodam's is at Zabb Elee.

                                                                                                          http://www.zabbelee.com/contents/home...

                                                                                                          Not related to Zabb City on 2nd Ave and 13th.

                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                          Zabb City
                                                                                                          244 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                          Zabb Elee
                                                                                                          75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                        2. h
                                                                                                          H Manning Jun 8, 2011 09:33 AM

                                                                                                          Nice article in NY Times:
                                                                                                          http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/din...

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: H Manning
                                                                                                            thew Jun 8, 2011 02:14 PM

                                                                                                            bleh. it was already hard enough to get a table

                                                                                                            1. re: thew
                                                                                                              t
                                                                                                              tex.s.toast Jun 8, 2011 08:46 PM

                                                                                                              they were still getting a steady influx of people after 10pm tonight.

                                                                                                              1. re: tex.s.toast
                                                                                                                s
                                                                                                                Simon Jun 9, 2011 07:43 AM

                                                                                                                yeah, the salads are nice food for this kind of hot weather...i'm sure they'll do great business all summer...

                                                                                                          2. n
                                                                                                            nmprisons Jun 8, 2011 02:31 PM

                                                                                                            Had lunch there today. It is definitely the best Thai in Manhattan.

                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: nmprisons
                                                                                                              hcbk0702 Jun 8, 2011 03:15 PM

                                                                                                              Lunch is a good idea. It was hard enough getting a table for dinner after the Serious Eats piece. The Times won't make it any easier.

                                                                                                              I'll echo the above recommendations for the hor mok: delicate custard-like texture, pleasantly laced with curry.

                                                                                                              1. re: hcbk0702
                                                                                                                f
                                                                                                                FoodDabbler Jun 8, 2011 08:16 PM

                                                                                                                But is it dessert?

                                                                                                                1. re: FoodDabbler
                                                                                                                  m
                                                                                                                  michelleats Jun 8, 2011 09:35 PM

                                                                                                                  No, hor mok is definitely not dessert unless you like your desserts savory.

                                                                                                            2. f
                                                                                                              foodwhisperer Jun 14, 2011 09:43 PM

                                                                                                              Zaab Elee I think maybe is too busy. The first time I went I sat at the bar and got special treatment. Everything I ate was great. The spicy was real spicy, the service great. Although the place was frantic. Last night, even though we asked for "thai spicy" we got "farang mild". The laab was not spicy and just ok. The laab kai was better than the duck laab i had tonite. The moo krob dish was supposed to be spicy and was not. I asked for hot sauce on the side, would you believe the hot sauce was barely spicy. The staff was completely different than the first 2 times. Everyone was different, except one bus boy. I'm not sure about the cooks. The bartender, the manager, the waitresses all different. When I asked they mentioned something about Spice in Park Slope, I'm not sure if that is another tthai restaurant they own , and the staff went there. The food tonite did not compare to SRI in queens. Ive been to Isan 9 yasothan, Roi Et and khon koen. The food was much better than Zaab Elee. I like consistency and this place disappointed. And I refuse to spell laab with an r. When I left I could not say "aroy mak"

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: foodwhisperer
                                                                                                                s
                                                                                                                Simon Jun 14, 2011 10:02 PM

                                                                                                                hi foodwhisperer,

                                                                                                                Sorry you had a weak meal...i hope it's just an abberation...i've been ordering pretty steadily over the last few weeks and it's been quite consistent, so maybe there was temporary staff change the night you went (i.e. maybe staff/cooks from there training other staff elsewhere?)...i will try to get the scoop and report back...

                                                                                                                p.s. i agree that Roi Et is better :)

                                                                                                              2. c
                                                                                                                chowbie Jun 15, 2011 07:52 AM

                                                                                                                Went last night (a Tues) around 8. It was packed packed packed. I forgot the Times review was only a week or so ago. Service was a mess, but the servers were nice and so were we and it was all fine.

                                                                                                                I didn't realise you could specify your range of spice at first. We just ordered, and our laab moo came out fresh-tasting but utterly non-spicy. We hurriedly specified that we could eat spicy and our later dishes, including som tam with pickled fish and long beans, were definitely in a different spice category. The pork leg soup (tom yum kha moo, I think?) was flavourful and mildly spicy. The food definitely had that Isaan funk. I liked that after the meal I had that fresh sweaty cleansed feeling I used to have in Thailand. It's like a sauna from the inside, and I haven't had it in NYC.

                                                                                                                I loved all the authentic varieties of yam, som tam and laab. We will definitely come back and try more things, but maybe not at prime dinner hour.

                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: chowbie
                                                                                                                  h
                                                                                                                  hungrycomposer Jun 15, 2011 02:58 PM

                                                                                                                  I've noticed after several visits that the laab is consistently less spicy in comparison to other dishes. I don't know why, because I've gotten some dishes that were fairly nuclear, but the laab was just a notch up from bland.

                                                                                                                  1. re: hungrycomposer
                                                                                                                    thew Jun 15, 2011 03:44 PM

                                                                                                                    from my time in thailand i dont think laarb was ever super spicy, by thai standards, anyway

                                                                                                                    1. re: thew
                                                                                                                      h
                                                                                                                      hungrycomposer Jun 15, 2011 03:52 PM

                                                                                                                      And since most of the heat in laab comes from dried chiles, you can always ask to spice it up after the fact if you want it super hot. As is I think it provides a nice balance to the hotter dishes.

                                                                                                                2. Bob Martinez Jun 19, 2011 01:12 PM

                                                                                                                  We had Zabb Elee on our list for a couple of months. By chance we were in the neighborhood early on Saturday evening and so we were glad to give it a shot.

                                                                                                                  We just got in under the wire. When we showed up at 7:00 there were about 5 tables left. These were all taken within the next 20 minutes. The room is pleasant and airy. The hard surfaces produced some robust echoes but all things considered it's more quiet than Sri when the crowd is in full cry.

                                                                                                                  I hadn't read either this thread or the ones on other boards before we went. We just ordered things that seemed appealing off the menu rather than follow recommendations. (That's pretty the plan I follow at every restaurant. I'm not given to asking the "What should I order?" question. People's tastes vary.)

                                                                                                                  First round -

                                                                                                                  Moo Korb - crispy pork larb

                                                                                                                  "Is it larb, Spock?"

                                                                                                                  "Yes Jim, but not as we know it."

                                                                                                                  We've ordered larb at multiple Thai restaurants. It's always consisted of various types of ground meat with lime juice and other flavorings. This was our old friend sliced crispy pork under an assumed name. We questioned the server about it later and she insisted that it was, indeed, larb. Sorry - if you called it hamburger that wouldn't make it true.

                                                                                                                  It wasn't bad but we felt like we'd been misled. When we were placing our order the waitress should have alerted us to the fact that we were essentially ordering the same dish twice.

                                                                                                                  Kai Yang - grilled marinated chicken with garlic pepper lime dip

                                                                                                                  Now *this* was bad. It was served at room temperature. Surprise! I could have dealt with that but most of it was unpleasantly dry, as in borderline chewy. The dish was a selection of breast meat, thighs, and a leg, all served on the bone. Only the leg was moist. This dish was flat out overcooked. If you could get past that the flavor was decent but certainly not a revelation.

                                                                                                                  Second round -

                                                                                                                  Kra Pao Moo Korb - crispy pork, basil leaf, white onion, oyster sauce

                                                                                                                  At least this time around we knew what to expect. My girlfriend especially liked the fried basil. I thought it was just OK. This was a decent version of this dish that compares favorably with Sri's edition. Not better, but in the same ballpark. Some pieces were hot, others were served at room temperature. Mysterious. Since crispy pork appears on the menu under a number of guises I suspect it's cooked in quantity as the evening goes on. We got a mixture of pre-cooked and freshly cooked pieces. FWIW the freshly cooked pieces, i.e. the hot ones, were markedly better.

                                                                                                                  Moo Tod Kratiem - deep fried pork with garlic & pepper

                                                                                                                  In Thai, "Moo Tod Kratiem" means "Dry, but not quite as dry as it looks." The appearance of this dish scared me - I really expected chewy, dessicated slivers of pork. In fact, they had a bit of moisture to them. Not a lot, but I was so frightened when they put the dish on the table that I was cheered to find it was better than I feared.

                                                                                                                  The flavor was decent - the dipping sauce added some welcome moisture as well as flavor. That said, dipping sauce shouldn't be used to save a dish.

                                                                                                                  At the start of the meal our waitress explained that we could choose a spicing level by picking a number from 1 to 5. My girlfriend picked 3, I picked 4. She made a special point of telling my how hot 4 was. I smiled and told her that I liked spicy food.

                                                                                                                  I thought all the dishes were moderately spicy but nothing was incendiary. In fact nothing was as hot as the medium spiced dishes we order at Sri. I suspect that Zabb thinks that most of their customers aren't familiar with Thai spicing levels and reduce things accordingly. They're probably right.

                                                                                                                  What they're *not* right about is that it's acceptable to serve overcooked food. It happened with 2 out of 4 dishes. That's pure sloppiness. I have frequent discussions with friends about marking restaurants on the Brooklyn Curve.

                                                                                                                  "This place is really good for Brooklyn", giving unwonted credit to places that are simply decent because previously no decent places were available.

                                                                                                                  My gut feeling is that Zabb Elle is pretty good Thai food for Manhattan.

                                                                                                                  The restaurant is located in a convenient neighborhood for us so we'll give it another chance. If we're served another meal like Saturday's it will be two and done.

                                                                                                                  -----
                                                                                                                  Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                  75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                  13 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                    s
                                                                                                                    Simon Jun 19, 2011 06:45 PM

                                                                                                                    hey Bob, sorry you had a less than satisfactory meal...but i find some of your critiques a bit off base: "Moo Tod Kratiem" means in Thai, literally: "pork w/ garlic"...re: the larb: "crispy" should have given you a hint that this was not one of the more common ground meat larbs like pork and chicken that you were expecting...

                                                                                                                    i too have found the spice levels to vary a lot (sometimes 4 is merely so-so hot, sometimes 2 is incendiary)...

                                                                                                                    i've had the grilled chicken at least 8 or 9 times and it's been perfect and moist (roughly comparable to any version i've had in BKK, Chiang Mai, and Isaan) every time...it sounds like you got a rare bad batch...

                                                                                                                    but i still think it's beyond a doubt the only good Isaan in Manhattan, by a long long distance...

                                                                                                                    hope your next meal is more pleasing...

                                                                                                                    1. re: Simon
                                                                                                                      Bob Martinez Jun 20, 2011 10:11 AM

                                                                                                                      I must be losing my touch. When I said "In Thai, 'Moo Tod Kratiem' means 'Dry, but not quite as dry as it looks.' " I was attempting to be funny. The dish was borderline chewy. Take a look at the picture again. It speaks volumes.

                                                                                                                      As I said, we'll give the place a second chance. We really want the place to be good.

                                                                                                                      I traveled out to Flushing for years in order to eat good Szechuan food. Nobody was happier than i was when 5 or 6 very good Szechuan places opened in Manhattan. I'd really like great Thai food to be located in a more convenient neighborhood.

                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                      1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                        s
                                                                                                                        Simon Jun 20, 2011 10:18 AM

                                                                                                                        heh, yeah i admit it doesn't look very appealing in that photo...

                                                                                                                        when you go back, i'd rec trying the somdam korat and the laab pladuk -- those are the two dishes that are in my standard rotation anyway :)

                                                                                                                        1. re: Simon
                                                                                                                          missmasala Jun 20, 2011 10:28 AM

                                                                                                                          do you know if they still have a lunch special? I went for lunch a few weeks ago and was offered only the regular dinner menu, but i've read in places that they do a lunch special. when i tried to ask about it, i got kind of a blank stare.

                                                                                                                          1. re: missmasala
                                                                                                                            howdini Jun 20, 2011 10:49 AM

                                                                                                                            I don't think that they have a lunch special, MM.

                                                                                                                            1. re: missmasala
                                                                                                                              h
                                                                                                                              hungrycomposer Jun 21, 2011 09:46 AM

                                                                                                                              I had the lunch special about 2 weeks ago. $9 for 3 dishes nicely presented. More limited than their regular menu, but fun and a good choice you're a regular. (If it's your first trip I'd do a little research and order of the regular menu.)

                                                                                                                              1. re: hungrycomposer
                                                                                                                                howdini Jun 21, 2011 10:18 AM

                                                                                                                                Ah! Thanks, HC! Whenever I go for lunch, I've been ordering off the regular menu for some reason...

                                                                                                                                1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                  h
                                                                                                                                  hungrycomposer Jun 21, 2011 06:49 PM

                                                                                                                                  I've had to ask for the lunch menu in the past. One of the dishes (of the 3) can be rice. I normally order something else and shell out an extra buck for my rice so I can taste an additional dish.

                                                                                                                              2. re: missmasala
                                                                                                                                missmasala Jun 28, 2011 06:59 AM

                                                                                                                                Finally went with my family so could try a few more dishes than at lunch. Overall, this is a good thai restaurant and a great addition to the east village. It will be nice not always having to go to queens for good thai food.

                                                                                                                                the larb moo was a touch on the sweet side and I didn't love it. prob won't order that again.
                                                                                                                                the pak boong (morning glory) was the best I have had in NYC. v fresh and delicious. (Sri's version is terrible and many other places don't offer it)
                                                                                                                                also good were the pla goong and the nuer kem tod (salted fried beef) tho it was missing the garlic chili dipping sauce mentioned on the menu. which is a shame, as I am assuming that sauce is nam jim, and as far as I'm concerned, you could eat nails with a good nam jim.
                                                                                                                                best dish of the evening for me was the som tam muazuar, tho I can't say the BBQ pork did much for the dish. (but loved the pork cracklings in it) however, this dish also brought up the one big problem I have with this place, which is their insistence on asking you how spicy you want it according to some weird 1-5 numbering system. For the som tam, I just kept saying, "spicy like you would get it in thailand" and the server was like, "so you mean 5? I think that's too hot for you."
                                                                                                                                After our insistence, he agreed to do "5"--whatever that means--and then came to check up on us and was clearly totally surprised that everyone, even the kids, were enjoying the dish. I get that not everyone likes spicy food and that they have to consider their customers and keep them happy, but somehow there must be a better way than negotiating some number system to get food spiced the way it should be. It totally made me long for the old days of sri, when I was never, ever asked how spicy I wanted something.
                                                                                                                                One other thing I totally loved about this place is that it is v vegetarian friendly. I also love all the egg dishes on the menu and the fact that you can get a fried egg added onto pretty much anything you want.

                                                                                                                        2. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                          m
                                                                                                                          michelleats Jun 19, 2011 08:25 PM

                                                                                                                          Very nice review and great pictures, Bob. I think the kitchen does have some issues with consistency, including, but not limited to, spicing. I suspect that some of the variance in spicing is a result of some dishes (the papaya salads) being pre-made at a certain heat level and not actually adjusted to the customer's request.

                                                                                                                          I've ordered the kai yang twice. The first time, it was very moist and really pretty much perfect. The second time, I also found it to be unpleasantly dry. I've had similarly inconsistent hor mok (gorgeously tender on one visit, very dry and even rubbery on another) and grilled fish.

                                                                                                                          The reason why I continue to go to Zabb Elee is because when it's on, the kitchen is fantastic. It's just not always on. Sometimes some dishes are on, while others are not. It is to some extent luck of the draw.

                                                                                                                          Also, I go because I don't know of any better Isaan (or other Thai), anywhere in the NYC area. If you do, please share!! (I think it is much better than Sripraphai, currently.)

                                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                                          Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                          75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                          1. re: michelleats
                                                                                                                            s
                                                                                                                            Simon Jun 19, 2011 08:46 PM

                                                                                                                            i am fairly certain that none of the papaya salads are pre-made

                                                                                                                            1. re: Simon
                                                                                                                              m
                                                                                                                              michelleats Jun 19, 2011 09:00 PM

                                                                                                                              I think certain mix-ins are added, afterwards (i.e. dried shrimp, fermented crab, etc..), but that the papaya and other base components have been marinating in the dressing for a while. If you look closely, you can see how the color of the shredded papaya has become darker in the dressing and more limp. When it is first cut, it is lighter in color and more crisp.

                                                                                                                              I don't mind advance preparation, since the base heat level is hot enough for me. And I like that the papaya has time to pick up the flavors of the dressing.

                                                                                                                            2. re: michelleats
                                                                                                                              p
                                                                                                                              Pan Jan 13, 2012 06:04 PM

                                                                                                                              Do you still think it's the best in the NYC area? Have you been to Chao Thai in Elmhurst?

                                                                                                                              Yes, the kitchen is inconsistent. I was really happy with the restaurant early on, then boycotted it for several months after getting bleedingly undercooked (I mean, largely raw) chicken for Gai Yang that I was afraid would literally make me sick (it didn't) and not even getting an apologetic response. However, I have been back and have not otherwise had those kinds of problems. I've generally liked their salads best, which is not surprising because those are staples of Isaan cuisine, and I have not had much trouble in getting relatively consistent levels of spiciness, which is really welcome.

                                                                                                                              Not all their dishes are that good. For example, I got Nuer Yang once and found the beef entirely dry and totally not worth substituting for chicken. And the morning glory with roast pork dish had great pork but wasn't otherwise that interesting to me, but I don't blame them for that, as I figure it's cooked the way Isaan people like it.

                                                                                                                              On the whole, this is a very good neighborhood restaurant I'm glad to have around, and good enough to be worth a trip from other parts of Manhattan. But I seriously doubt it gives the best places in Queens a run for their money.

                                                                                                                          2. l
                                                                                                                            lankyFool Jul 9, 2011 12:12 PM

                                                                                                                            Okay, I've held off on writing a review of Zaab Elle until this point but after my third visit I'd like to chime in and say I don't think this restaurant is as good as its press. It is DEFINITELY not the best Thai in nyc, unless Queens has been kicked out of the city for some reason.

                                                                                                                            I'm not saying the food is bad, it's way ahead of most Manhattan Thai but at the same time it is still NOT authentic Thai or Isaan food - the food here is still far too sweet and somewhat gloppy. This applies especially to the salads which have been weirdly lauded - sorry but every salad I've had from here has been disgustingly sweet - waaaaay too much palm sugar in the dresssing and not enough herbs present. Yes, you can get spicy food here but that doesn't make it authentic in itself.

                                                                                                                            I've lived in Thailand and for me the main difference between real Thai food and the glop we generally get in New York comes comes down to:

                                                                                                                            (A) Most Thai sauces are very light, they're usually based upon broths and stocks and are not at all syrupy. There is a sweetness to many sauces but thai cooks pride themselves on balancing that sweetness with the acidity, spiciness and umami of the dish.

                                                                                                                            (B) Fresh herbs - Thai salads and especially ones from Isaan have huge amounts of herbs, as do many of the stir fries. Herbs become an integral part of the dish and not just a garnish or flavoring.

                                                                                                                            On both of the above fronts Zaab Elle currently falls down. Regarding the sweetness it would seem that the kitchen believes that this is what Americans really want. Regarding the lack of fresh herbs in the salad and other dishes, I'd put that down to the cost of purchasing these ingrediants in the USA. I also agree with those above who said that many of the salads seem to be prepared in advance - the pappaya and other ingrediants seemed to be very limp in the ones I've eaten, this totally ruins the texture for me. Not surprising given how busy the place is but still not excusable.

                                                                                                                            My other problem with this restaurant is down to the cramped seating, horrific noise levels and service which seems to be continuously swamped. It's not exactly relaxing watching your waiter literally run up and down the narrow isle between seats.

                                                                                                                            I do give them a lot of respect for keaping their prices down and for attempting to offer something different but the execution of most of the dishes needs work and the seating is just too cramped for this to be a comfortable place to eat. Sripraphai still comes out way ahead for me.

                                                                                                                            1. jindapee Aug 19, 2011 10:08 AM

                                                                                                                              definitely the best in Manhattan but not in NYC. i grew up with these dishes and although they aren't quite "authentic" they are as close as you'll get to Lao food, which is very similar to Issan food.

                                                                                                                              15 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                l
                                                                                                                                Lau Aug 19, 2011 10:12 AM

                                                                                                                                what do u think is the best in NYC?

                                                                                                                                1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                  MsAlyp Aug 25, 2011 08:35 AM

                                                                                                                                  I haven't been here but I stray away from Thai after having been to Thailand.. just why torture myself!??! What do u feel is the best? I see so many discussions regarding this but some of them are dated and places change cooks frequently. thanks!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                    jindapee Aug 25, 2011 08:54 AM

                                                                                                                                    honestly, the Zapp Elee is Manhattan is the closest thing i've had. i'm a bit bias obviously having home cooked food that can't be beat. so im comparing apples and oranges. Zapp Elee's menu has been Americanized to some extent and lacks some crucial ingredients that most people would turn away from. things like "pla-dak" (fermented fish sauce, not the clearish fish sause most people are used to) are missing and are essential to making dishes like papaya salad sing.

                                                                                                                                    the Zapp Elee in Queens is worth checking out, although i haven't been there its clear that the asian food in Flushing crushes the food in Manhattan.

                                                                                                                                    im not saying, don't go to Zapp Elee. definitely check it out and see for yourself.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                      s
                                                                                                                                      Simon Aug 25, 2011 09:16 AM

                                                                                                                                      jindapee, Zabb-Elee does use bla-ra (fermented fish sauce) -- it's in several of the somdams (e.g. the somdam Korat)...they are the only restaurant in Manhattan that uses it, and that makes me happy because it's one of my favorite things...

                                                                                                                                      1. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                        f
                                                                                                                                        foodwhisperer Sep 15, 2011 07:34 AM

                                                                                                                                        I had the papaya salad the other night and it was excellent. I think that might be their best dish. My overall experience was very good, especially compared to the last time I was there. They lived up to their name. If I remember my Issaan talk , zaab elee means good food, same as aroy mak in thai. They lived up to their name. However, I still don't understand why they do not have pad thai and other noodle dishes. It is a fallacy that noodles aren't eaten in issan It is eaten all over Thailand. For that matter noodles are eaten all over Asia.

                                                                                                                                        -----
                                                                                                                                        Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                        75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                        1. re: foodwhisperer
                                                                                                                                          s
                                                                                                                                          Simon Sep 15, 2011 11:26 AM

                                                                                                                                          foodwhisperer,

                                                                                                                                          you "don't understand why they do not have pad thai"?...when you go to an Italian restaurant that's not a pizzeria, do you "not understand" why they don't serve pizza?...or not understand why every kind of French restaurant doesn't serves quiche?...same thing...

                                                                                                                                          Sure, it's possible to eat pad thai within the geographical boundaries of Isaan, the same way it's possible to eat Tex-Mex burritos in NYC...Zabb Elee is an Isaan restaurant serving Isaan cuisine; pad thai is not remotely Isaan cuisine...end of story...

                                                                                                                                          1. re: foodwhisperer
                                                                                                                                            jindapee Sep 23, 2011 06:20 AM

                                                                                                                                            foodwhisperer...how do you know they were speaking Lao? just curious...they kind of made me feel like a fool when i ordered in Lao last time i was there. which i found odd, Lao being my first language and all. at least my waitress wasn't Lao, perhaps Thai because i didn't quite understand what she said back to me.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                              thew Sep 23, 2011 06:51 AM

                                                                                                                                              when i spoke to them they had waitresses from across SE asia....

                                                                                                                                              1. re: thew
                                                                                                                                                s
                                                                                                                                                Simon Sep 23, 2011 07:25 AM

                                                                                                                                                The waitresses are Thai (both Isaan and non-Isaan), with the exception of one girl who is Vietnamese.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Simon
                                                                                                                                                  thew Sep 23, 2011 07:45 AM

                                                                                                                                                  there were 2 vietnamese one lao and i think one or 2 thai when i was there last time and asked

                                                                                                                                              2. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                                f
                                                                                                                                                foodwhisperer Oct 10, 2011 10:38 PM

                                                                                                                                                Jindapee, they were not speaking Lao in this restaurant. They say they are Isaan, and in Isaan, I think everyone speaks Lao, because Isaan dialect is really a mix of thai and Lao. Most of the people working there were from BKK and do not speak Lao. But the name Zaab Elee, is Isaan and Lao for "good tasting food"

                                                                                                                                          2. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                            jindapee Oct 14, 2011 06:34 AM

                                                                                                                                            an update to my statement above:
                                                                                                                                            i ate at Zabb Elee and it indeed was "very tasty". on a wednesday night the restaurant wasn't too busy and our server was very sweet and took her time with my broken Lao/Thai ordering the dishes.

                                                                                                                                            my first time at Zabb Elee was a week after they opened and the menu has changed a ton! first off Som Tum or Papaya salad we ordered that first visit was tasteless because there was no fermented crab or pla dak in it. that ingredient is so crucial to so many Issan and Lao dishes. my last visit, i noticed that they included a specific Som Tum with pla dak included and it made a world of a difference. i think on their menu the Thai word for pla dak is something like "kla poo" or something like that. i highly suggest you try this version of papaya salad instead of the version without it.

                                                                                                                                            i stand by my words in that the Thai/Lao food in Flushing is still better but this is definitely the standard in Manhattan.

                                                                                                                                            -----
                                                                                                                                            Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                            75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                            1. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                              Silverjay Oct 14, 2011 06:38 AM

                                                                                                                                              Where in Flushing are good Thai/Lao restaurants? Do you mean Woodside/ Elmhurst?

                                                                                                                                        2. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                          d
                                                                                                                                          Daniel76 Aug 25, 2011 06:49 AM

                                                                                                                                          I too would love to hear what your favorite in the city is..

                                                                                                                                          has anyone been to the Zabb Elee in Queens?

                                                                                                                                          Came here the other night and was super impressed by the food.. The service is not the best but, the food makes up for it..

                                                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                                                          Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                          75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                          1. re: jindapee
                                                                                                                                            p
                                                                                                                                            Pan Jan 13, 2012 06:07 PM

                                                                                                                                            Best Isaan in Manhattan.

                                                                                                                                            As for best Thai in Manhattan, I still think the original Wondee Siam is probably usually going to produce a better meal, if you stick to the "Secret Thai" menu in English or the actual Thai-language menu when they allow you to order from that, but it's a more limited selection.

                                                                                                                                            -----
                                                                                                                                            Wondee Siam
                                                                                                                                            792 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

                                                                                                                                          2. linguafood Oct 9, 2011 05:00 PM

                                                                                                                                            Any newer verdicts? Is it still awesome? Last post is from August, I'm thinking of going this coming weekend.

                                                                                                                                            26 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                              l
                                                                                                                                              Lau Oct 9, 2011 05:37 PM

                                                                                                                                              its still great, i go there fairly frequently, been meaning to write a follow up post

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                linguafood Oct 10, 2011 07:55 AM

                                                                                                                                                awesome news!

                                                                                                                                              2. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                Deb Van D Oct 11, 2011 05:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                It is definitely worth a visit. We went this past Saturday night and liked a lot of the meal. I really enjoyed the duck larb, although I wished it had had more zip. The yum koon cheing, sweet sausage salad was spicier, bright and fresh, lots of flavor. Loved, loved the hor muk, curried fish custard; ate the whole serving down because my date wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole.

                                                                                                                                                Less appealing, less interesting at least to me, were the Nuer Yang, grilled marinated beef and the Kao Mum Kai, steamed chicken with ginger rice and sauce. Good but not great, there has been some unevenness with the cooking of meats that we noticed before.

                                                                                                                                                It’s hard to resist the temptation to make comparisons. The bbq beef dish at Ayada blows this one away. Similarly, I prefer the sweet summer sausage salad at Sri. The sausage has a little more frizzle on it, and it gives it quite a bit more flavor. And we weren’t asked for our preference of spicing level on this visit. We’re in the medium + camp and found these dishes to be a little too tame. Service was pleasant, except for a clumsy fellow who could not pass through a fairly decent space between tables without bumping my companion’s chair. I’ll give you once or twice, but the third time sort of gets the antennae twitching.

                                                                                                                                                Still, it was a pretty good meal.

                                                                                                                                                -----
                                                                                                                                                Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                                75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Deb Van D
                                                                                                                                                  linguafood Oct 11, 2011 07:56 AM

                                                                                                                                                  Did you have to make a rez for Saturday night? We're only 3 people and would also be fine with eating later in the eve -- say 8:30/9-ish....

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                    Deb Van D Oct 11, 2011 09:15 AM

                                                                                                                                                    We didn't make a res because it was just the two of us. We thought it prudent to get there unfashionably early, 7-7:15, although there were still seats around 7:30.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Deb Van D
                                                                                                                                                      linguafood Oct 11, 2011 09:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                      Yeah - just called: they only take rezzies for parties of 6 or more. I guess we'll have to wing it, then. Maybe we'll go super-early or super-late....

                                                                                                                                                2. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                  Bob Martinez Oct 13, 2011 07:13 PM

                                                                                                                                                  I was there last Saturday night. I think the degree of awesomeness at Zaab Elee is inversely proportional to the amount of time you've spent at Sripraphai and Ayada. Their grilled marinated beef was dry and none too flavorful. The sauce served on the side added a welcome amount of spicing and moisture but that points up the inherent deficiencies of the dish.

                                                                                                                                                  I deliberately ordered the steamed chicken thinking to avoid the kitchen's regular tendency to overcook things. As far as that went, it worked although once again it was under spiced. To the rescue, our old friend, sauce on the side. What the sauce couldn't save me from were about 3 or 4 indigestible gristly bits hidden amongst the pieces of chicken.

                                                                                                                                                  I've mentioned before that I thought the kitchen at Zaab Elee was sloppy. It still is.

                                                                                                                                                  The servers have given up on asking you which of 5 spicing levels you want. They just dropped the stuff on the table. Yes, that makes their lives easier but there's a marked difference between adding spices during the cooking process and banging them on at the end. Dishes lose a degree of subtlety. I guess the kitchen figures that people can't tell the difference.

                                                                                                                                                  To be sure, Zaab Elee is very good Thai for Manhattan but Sri and Ayada blow its' doors off.

                                                                                                                                                  -----
                                                                                                                                                  Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                                  75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                                                    q
                                                                                                                                                    queenseats Oct 14, 2011 04:56 AM

                                                                                                                                                    Hey Bob. I was also there last Saturday night and had a polar opposite experience. Our waitress asked us about spice level (only for the papaya salad, as I guess our mains were not meant to be spicy) and we went with "3." I can tolerate a lot of heat, but my fiance does not. WOW. I can't imagine what a 4 or 5 would be. The salad was so spicy we had to drink our wine/beer between mouthfuls to extinguish the fire. We then split two mains: the crispy pork dish with minced green beans (I think that's what they are) and one of the specials, a clam dish. We enjoyed both mains, though the clam dish had a very strong flavor, perhaps of fermented fish sauce, that took a few bites to adjust to. Fiance and I are going to Thailand for our honeymoon in a couple months, so we go to Zabb Elee as a sort of "research" for Isaan food. So far both of our meals there (one this summer after all the hoopla and last weekend) have been exceptional.

                                                                                                                                                    -----
                                                                                                                                                    Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                                    75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                                                      l
                                                                                                                                                      Lau Oct 14, 2011 06:07 AM

                                                                                                                                                      Bob - i think you ordered the wrong things, the dishes you ordered are not that great. Try some of the dishes in my review and I think you'll change your mind. i actually enjoy eating at zabb elee alot more than sri which i find highly overrated (its good, but far from excellent)

                                                                                                                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/783868
                                                                                                                                                      http://www.lauhound.com/2011/05/zabb-...

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                        Silverjay Oct 14, 2011 06:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                        Exactly. The larb and the som tum are the sweet spot on the menu here. They are much better at Zabb Elee than the half-ass versions at Sri. Don't get me wrong, I love Sri and Ayada and Chao Thai and have been many times, but for these Isaan specialties, those places aren't strong. Zabb Elee is not the place to build a meal on protein centric entrees. Also, I believe the steamed chicken dish, like many steamed dishes in Thai cuisine, is meant to be aromatic and mild. Not bold and spicy.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Silverjay
                                                                                                                                                          howdini Oct 14, 2011 07:02 AM

                                                                                                                                                          Oh, I disagree: I could easily build a meal around the Pad Ped Moo Korb (crispy pork with thai eggplant), every single day!

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                            l
                                                                                                                                                            Lau Oct 14, 2011 07:58 AM

                                                                                                                                                            oh that dish is really really good

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                              howdini Oct 14, 2011 08:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                              I CAN'T STOP ORDERING IT!!!!

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                l
                                                                                                                                                                Lau Oct 14, 2011 08:34 AM

                                                                                                                                                                try the Larb Plar Korb, im obsessed with that dish

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                  howdini Oct 14, 2011 08:56 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  Will do, thanks!

                                                                                                                                                            2. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                              i
                                                                                                                                                              InfoMofo Oct 27, 2011 09:06 AM

                                                                                                                                                              I'm the same way- whenever I order from ZE, I have to get the Pad Ped Moo Korb. We should start a group.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: InfoMofo
                                                                                                                                                                howdini Oct 27, 2011 10:11 AM

                                                                                                                                                                PPMKA

                                                                                                                                                            3. re: Silverjay
                                                                                                                                                              s
                                                                                                                                                              Simon Oct 14, 2011 08:44 AM

                                                                                                                                                              agreed...i've been eating at ZE or getting takeout (including food for an evening picnic a few days ago) about once a week...haven't noticed any dropoff in quality...i almost always get the Somdam Korat and one of the laabs, plus a dish or two that i haven't ordered yet...

                                                                                                                                                            4. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                              Bob Martinez Oct 14, 2011 08:47 AM

                                                                                                                                                              Ah - the old "you ordered wrong" response. :-)

                                                                                                                                                              I've been following your posts for years and have the world of respect for you. That said, there is no excuse for that kitchen sending out overcooked dishes time after time. Underspicing might be a deliberate choice the kitchen makes but not overcooking. They don't deliberately overcook those dishes - they do it because they're not paying attention.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                                                                l
                                                                                                                                                                Lau Oct 14, 2011 08:55 AM

                                                                                                                                                                yah i hear what you're saying, but the unfortunate thing in america when it comes to asian food (or frankly most ethnic food for that matter) is that they have menus that are far far too long and comprehensive and really get away from the core of what they specialize in or are good at

                                                                                                                                                                a perfect example is sichuan restuarants in NY and i believe you have been to just about every one of them. All of them bar none have a bunch of dishes that are extremely mediocre to just plain bad, but you know what to order at the various different places and so you will avoid those dishes. so while i think zabb elee is a great restaurant, it does suffer from the same problem i highlighted above with dishes like the nuer yang which i thought was pretty mediocre (as did you), but then the other dishes i had were fantastic, so at the end of the day i can deal with that issue b/c i figured out whats good and whats not and i just stick to the good dishes

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                  Bob Martinez Oct 14, 2011 09:22 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  Yes, I absolutely believe you but I still have nightmares when I compare the grilled marinated beef at Zaab against the BBQ beef at Ayada. Here are pictures. Guess which is which.

                                                                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                                                                    l
                                                                                                                                                                    Lau Oct 14, 2011 09:28 AM

                                                                                                                                                                    that looks great, i was just talking to someone about getting out to ayada...ill post up for recs when i decide to go

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                      Bob Martinez Oct 14, 2011 09:32 AM

                                                                                                                                                                      You can start with that beef. It was juicy and tender and the spicing was robust without being overwhelming. It looked so good that another table ordered it after seeing ours.

                                                                                                                                                                      And thanks for all your great recommendations over the years.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                                                                        l
                                                                                                                                                                        Lau Oct 14, 2011 09:43 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        absolutely here to help!

                                                                                                                                                                        definitely looking for to ayada

                                                                                                                                                            5. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                                                                                                              Peter Cuce Oct 26, 2011 01:56 PM

                                                                                                                                                              Bob, have you been to Chao Thai? Excuse me for not researching before asking this question. I've gone about 15 times in the last three or four months. I love everything they do except sometimes their curries.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Peter Cuce
                                                                                                                                                                Bob Martinez Oct 26, 2011 04:28 PM

                                                                                                                                                                I haven't been. It's been on my list for a long time. I guess I need to put it at the top.

                                                                                                                                                          2. h
                                                                                                                                                            hungrycomposer Oct 11, 2011 10:24 AM

                                                                                                                                                            Has anyone else found that dinner tends to be better than lunch? Maybe there is a different chef working at night? I went a lot earlier in the year (summertime I tend to stay home and cook greenmarket bounty) so I haven't had much recent experience, but I definitely got better meals in the evening.

                                                                                                                                                            1. l
                                                                                                                                                              Lau Oct 26, 2011 09:00 AM

                                                                                                                                                              Hey - I'm going to zabb again tonight, but I'm going with a friend who doesn't eat pork. Unfortunately two of my favorite dishes at Zabb are the moo larb and pad ped moo korb and generally i order alot of pork here

                                                                                                                                                              so what non-pork dishes would you guys recommend? (i'm definitely getting the som tum thai and larb plar korb as those are two of my other favorite dishes)

                                                                                                                                                              31 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                linguafood Oct 26, 2011 09:07 AM

                                                                                                                                                                We had the duck larb and the chicken larb, and I thought the chicken larb was MUCH more interesting in flavor, strangely enough -- as I had really been looking forward to the duck larb. We had a number of crispy pork dishes (almost too many, if that's even possible), the pad ped moo korb, and the crispy pork larb.

                                                                                                                                                                The som tum, ordered as a 5, was not as spicy as the morning glory dish (ordered as a 4) with -- you guessed it: crispy pork. Overall, I thought the heat level was fine, not nearly as crazy as some people here make it sound.

                                                                                                                                                                The hor mok was a bit of a disappointment, as I've had a fantastic rendition of it at a market in Berlin:

                                                                                                                                                                http://bitchinberlin.wordpress.com/20...

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                  l
                                                                                                                                                                  Lau Oct 26, 2011 09:21 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  ok maybe ill substitute the pork larb for the chicken larb

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                    howdini Oct 26, 2011 09:21 AM

                                                                                                                                                                    Ha! Having no basis for comparison, I think the hor mok is pretty awesome.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                      linguafood Oct 26, 2011 09:26 AM

                                                                                                                                                                      I found it to be lacking in depth, which is really unfortunate, considering it's one of the more "expensive" items on the menu. Really, check out that link I posted and look at the picture. It's in another league entirely.

                                                                                                                                                                      But the crispy pork and the spicy morning glory made up for it. Tho next time around, we may have to order everything as a 4 or 5 to get our heat kick on '-)

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                        howdini Oct 26, 2011 09:34 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        Those dishes look fantastically good! I wish that there was something like those dim sum on the Zabb menu.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                          linguafood Oct 26, 2011 09:36 AM

                                                                                                                                                                          Those dumplings are the shizzle. Serious happy dance in your mouth. Would love to get my hands on some right now..... and the market is actually happening on Wednesday. Dammit.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                      h
                                                                                                                                                                      hungrycomposer Oct 26, 2011 07:25 PM

                                                                                                                                                                      Is the market there in the winter? I have a fellowship in Berlin Jan through May, and that looks mighty good...

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: hungrycomposer
                                                                                                                                                                        linguafood Oct 27, 2011 08:05 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        Yes, the market is all year round, and there are more things to eat than the Thai food. Grilled fish, hot-smoked salmon, falafel, gyros, tiramisu.... trust me, you won't go hungry. The food will make up for the darkness in Jan & Feb.

                                                                                                                                                                        Feel free to peruse my blog (there are quite a number of English posts) for info, or check in on the Europe board for recs.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                          h
                                                                                                                                                                          hungrycomposer Oct 29, 2011 02:57 PM

                                                                                                                                                                          Thanks, what is your blog? I'll actually be in Wannsee, which is outside of Berlin. I hear there is a great chef where I have my fellowship, but there are plenty of meals in which I'll have to fend for myself. I hope the grilled fish at the market includes grilled mackerel, which can be so great in Germany. And I'll be looking for a good Asian supermarket, so I can stock up on ingredients for cooking in Berlin.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: hungrycomposer
                                                                                                                                                                            linguafood Oct 29, 2011 03:04 PM

                                                                                                                                                                            Ah. You must be at the American Academy, then. If I had known they have a great chef, I may have stayed there as well -- though it IS quite a haul from the more popular areas in the center. Thankfully, public transportation is pretty awesome. There are also plenty of Asian supermarkets in Berlin, likely a bunch of them in Charlottenburg (where the Cantonese "chinatown" or rather, one street: Kantstrasse, is located) which will be the closest neighborhood to Wannsee (hell, there may even be Asian stores in Wannsee, but I wouldn't know. Not my hood at all).

                                                                                                                                                                            The Steckerlfisch stand always has trout, mackerel, and pike perch, sometimes squid & shrimp. It is absolutely fantastic.

                                                                                                                                                                            You can find my blog on my profile.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                        l
                                                                                                                                                                        Lau Oct 27, 2011 07:42 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        linguafood - nice call on the kai larb, it was very similar to the moo larb, so that worked out well

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                          MWinston Oct 31, 2011 12:10 PM

                                                                                                                                                                          I agree, I'm not usually one to order chicken given the choice, but the Kai Larb was very moist and delicious.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: MWinston
                                                                                                                                                                            l
                                                                                                                                                                            Lau Oct 31, 2011 01:30 PM

                                                                                                                                                                            ditto id prefer pork, but it was actually very similar

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                          p
                                                                                                                                                                          Pan Jan 13, 2012 06:20 PM

                                                                                                                                                                          My girlfriend and I like the duck larb very much, for whatever that's worth, but we also like the chicken larb and the pork larb.

                                                                                                                                                                        3. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                          howdini Oct 26, 2011 09:20 AM

                                                                                                                                                                          The hor mok, of course, and Pukk Boong Fai Dang (spicy morning glory) is no slouch. If the tod kai (marinated fried chicken) is cooked correctly (I've had both excellent and sub par orders of it), it's pretty yummy too.

                                                                                                                                                                          Have you tried any of the Bangkok rice and noodle dishes? Or is that stuff not the strength of the restaurant?

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                            l
                                                                                                                                                                            Lau Oct 26, 2011 09:25 AM

                                                                                                                                                                            i have tried some of them for lunch (i'm planning on writing a post about it),

                                                                                                                                                                            actually most of those dishes / noodle soups are actually chinese dishes generally teochew dishes that have been modified to fit thai tastes. thailand (bangkok) has a very large chinese population, but its largely been integrated like i think very few of them actually still speak chinese unlike the rest of southeast asia where most chinese still speak some sort of chinese dialect. supposedly like 30-40% of thai people have some sort of chinese blood in them now, which i didnt realize until recently when i looked it up

                                                                                                                                                                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_Chi...

                                                                                                                                                                            the whole reason i went there for those dishes was b/c i had some singapore withdrawl and it was the closest thing i could fine

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                              howdini Nov 14, 2011 07:06 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              Did you ever post this? I might've missed it...

                                                                                                                                                                              OT, up until about two or three years ago, there was a fantastic Malaysian place at the NE corner of E. B'way and Canal, much better than Nyonya and Jaya (though Jaya had the superior Hainan chicken): fresh peanut pancakes, unbelievably good curries and curry soups (fiery and deep, the best roti canai I've ever had; no other tastes right), mouse tail noodle soup, all SO GOOD and absolutely dirt cheap. It didn't have an English name. I was dating a Singaporean woman who introduced me to it (her dad was Malay). I miss it terribly. What's your rec for Malaysian food in Manhattan? Best in city?

                                                                                                                                                                              -----
                                                                                                                                                                              Nyonya
                                                                                                                                                                              199 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

                                                                                                                                                                              Jaya
                                                                                                                                                                              90 Baxter St, New York, NY 10013

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                                DaveCook Nov 14, 2011 11:15 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                You're not, possibly, thinking of Overseas Taste (previously Overseas Asian) or Skyway (successor to Sentosa), are you? The northeast corner of Canal and East Broadway is occupied by Seward Park.

                                                                                                                                                                                -----
                                                                                                                                                                                Overseas Taste
                                                                                                                                                                                49 Canal St, New York, NY 10002

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: DaveCook
                                                                                                                                                                                  l
                                                                                                                                                                                  Lau Nov 14, 2011 11:21 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                  no i believe he / she was referring to happy joy (long since gone) which was the best malaysian id had in NY

                                                                                                                                                                                  howdini - ill write u a longer post a little later, jamming on something at work right now

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                                    howdini Nov 14, 2011 11:25 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes! Happy Joy! Makes me Sad Depression to think that it's gone :(

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: DaveCook
                                                                                                                                                                                    howdini Nov 14, 2011 11:32 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                    You got me on a technicality! Seward Park doesn't really have a corner directly across the street, so the other corner *feels* east-y. Lau nailed the place.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: DaveCook
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                                                                                                                                                                                      foodwhisperer Nov 18, 2011 08:34 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                      Yep, that is Overseas right there. It is no relation to Overseas Restaurant in Malaysia, but most people who know Malaysian food think it's the most authentic in NYC.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: foodwhisperer
                                                                                                                                                                                        howdini Nov 18, 2011 08:48 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                        How did I not know about Overseas before?!?!

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                                          l
                                                                                                                                                                                          Lau Nov 19, 2011 07:16 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                          ok sorry i just realized i never gave the full response. so malaysian food in NY is not that good, but here are my two recs:
                                                                                                                                                                                          - Taste Good: this is the best malaysian ive had in NY, however they changed ownership maybe 6 months ago and someone told me the standard has gone down
                                                                                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/712808
                                                                                                                                                                                          -Overseas: in the city i find oveseas the best, however read my review b/c dishes are hit or miss. besides the dishes in the review i do like their char kway tiao, famous shredded chicken noodle soup and prawn mee. http://www.lauhound.com/2010/09/overs...

                                                                                                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                                                                                                          Overseas Taste
                                                                                                                                                                                          49 Canal St, New York, NY 10002

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                                            howdini Nov 19, 2011 08:13 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                            Fantastic! Thanks so much, Lau!

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                                              howdini Nov 19, 2011 09:06 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                              I'll definitely hit Overseas this week; I haven't had a good roti canai in a long time, and that Kang Kan Belachan sounds terrific.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                                                h
                                                                                                                                                                                                Humbucker Nov 19, 2011 10:22 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                Whatever you do, don't order their curry beef stew noodles, which were the worst rendition of curry noodles I ever had. I do not exaggerate when I say the beef stew was 100% gristle.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Humbucker
                                                                                                                                                                                                  howdini Nov 19, 2011 10:40 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thanks, HB! Though, for the record, I must admit I'm more of a single-coil guy myself, 60Hz be damned!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                                                    l
                                                                                                                                                                                                    Lau Nov 19, 2011 11:36 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                    actually to be specific don't order the following dishes: hainan chicken, hainan chicken rice, indian rojak, ipoh bean sprouts, bak kuh teh, hokkien mee

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                                                      howdini Nov 19, 2011 12:03 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Will [not] do!

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                                  f
                                                                                                                                                                                  foodwhisperer Nov 18, 2011 08:41 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                  I find the laab kai and the papaya salad at Zaab Elee to be my favorite dishes. I usually like laab kai better than laab moo. Moo yang is my favorite thai pork dish

                                                                                                                                                                                3. k
                                                                                                                                                                                  kathryn Nov 13, 2011 09:18 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                  Stopped in Saturday at 9pm and the place was packed. 10 minute wait for a table. We loved the sautéed Chinese broccoli with crispy pork, one of our usuals, but I felt the pork larb was not up to snuff. Maybe too much rice powder and also it was served colder than I remember having it before, closer to fridge temperature than room temperature. But the moo yang (grilled pork) with spicy dipping sauce really hit the spot. As always, we ordered way too much, but the bill was only $35 or so.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kathryn
                                                                                                                                                                                    f
                                                                                                                                                                                    FoodDabbler Nov 13, 2011 09:43 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                    we = 2, 3, 4, ... infinity? Beer?

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: FoodDabbler
                                                                                                                                                                                      k
                                                                                                                                                                                      kathryn Nov 14, 2011 06:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                      Two, no drinks.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. o
                                                                                                                                                                                    OakTownHound Nov 14, 2011 06:42 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                    They've certainly toned down their heat levels, if not the other flavors in their food. We asked for our food "Thai spicy" this Saturday night. They warned us that it would be VERY spicy, we insisted, and they said ok. The food we got was a medium level of spicy by American standards, and not even on the charts by Thai standards. Our food included several dishes that should be quite spicy, including papaya salad, the pad phet crispy pork, and chicken larb. Great flavors otherwise, definitely better than 99% of the Thai food I've had in the U.S., but this restaurant has toned down their use of chilis to the point that even insisting on "Thai spicy" won't get you spicy food.

                                                                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: OakTownHound
                                                                                                                                                                                      howdini Nov 14, 2011 06:58 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                      Unfortunately, I think they have some kind of random-heat-decision system happening; the flavor is always great, but the heat level often doesn't correspond to what's asked for. Still a great place, tho.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: OakTownHound
                                                                                                                                                                                        linguafood Nov 14, 2011 10:05 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                        That's a bummer, but I noticed inconsistency in the heat levels, too. A "5" dish was rather mild, a "4" dish the hottest of the night, tho still nowhere near the fire I like.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: OakTownHound
                                                                                                                                                                                          t
                                                                                                                                                                                          tex.s.toast Nov 14, 2011 10:48 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                          id say that its more inconsistency in spicing than toning down the heat levels, we ordered our som tam last week at a 2 and it was hot. i like it super hot but had no complaints at all about the volume or strength of the chilis they used (though id never recommend anyone who genuinely cannot handle spicy even attempt some of ZE's food)

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Deb Van D Dec 15, 2011 05:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                          I stopped in for an early dinner last nigh. It was my fourth visit, I think, and my least favorite. I ordered pork larb, not the crispy version, but the ground. When I wasn't asked about the spice level I volunteered that I wanted it Spicy. Spicy? Yes, single, emphatic nod with eye contact. Spicy. I’m not sure where the 1-5 spice levels went, but what came in its place proved disappointing. When I order "medium spicy" at Sripraphai, I usually cough for the first 10 minutes. This was pretty lame. Still, it was tasty enough, although with an overwhelming amount of red onion, about a 50-50 ratio with the larb.

                                                                                                                                                                                          I had the hor mok, too, and didn't like it as well as I have in the past. Usually subtle and tender, this time it was a little rubbery. Maybe an early weeknight doesn't show the place to it's advantage, but while the service continues sweet, the careful preparation just wasn't there.

                                                                                                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                                                                                                          Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                                                                          75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Deb Van D
                                                                                                                                                                                            l
                                                                                                                                                                                            Lau Dec 15, 2011 06:57 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                            when i ask them for medium spicy its very spicy and i haven't asked them for really spicy although i go there a decent amount and i think they know that i want things authentic. however, when i first went there i had to sort of convince them as i got alot of pushback ("are you sure you want that?" etc)

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Lau
                                                                                                                                                                                              Deb Van D Dec 15, 2011 08:27 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                              Yeah, I thought I had it covered with the eye contact and the emphatic nod. But, no. I don't blame them for wanting to play it safe and effectively trying to read their customer. As a result, I think I got it Irish Spicy instead of Thai Spicy. Maybe if I were to get back there with some frequency I would stand a better chance at wearing them down.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Deb Van D
                                                                                                                                                                                                l
                                                                                                                                                                                                Lau Dec 15, 2011 08:38 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                yah i think its worth it, their isaan dishes are far superior to sripraphai in my opinion, i was very underwhelmed with dishes like laab at sripraphai

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Deb Van D
                                                                                                                                                                                                  linguafood Dec 15, 2011 10:02 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  "Irish spicy" -- love it! Damn, I would be disappointed at that, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. s
                                                                                                                                                                                              Simon Dec 21, 2011 01:54 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                              Got takeout last night...the waitstaff is, w/ the exception of one waitress, totally different from 2 or 3 weeks ago...both of the managers i usually chat with there were not there, but i was told were just off that night...and they assured me that despite the sudden waitress turnover, that the kitchen is the same...

                                                                                                                                                                                              That said, it was the weakest meal i've had there so far...i tried 2 dishes i hadn't yet had there: Guai Thiew Ped (duck soup w/ rice noodles) which had lots of nice duck meat and a rich broth but was much too sweet for me and the soup also contained a few dangerously small bone shards -- while i found it too sweet and won't order again, other people might enjoy it, just watch out for the bones)...and the Yum Talay (seafood salad), which was flatout mediocre (rubbery squid, a few bland fishballs, decent shrimp, lettuce) and which i'll never order again.

                                                                                                                                                                                              The Hor Mok was wonderful as usual...the Somdam Korat didn't have enough bla-ra and garlic for my taste this time, but hopefully this was an abberation.

                                                                                                                                                                                              -----
                                                                                                                                                                                              Zabb Elee
                                                                                                                                                                                              75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Simon
                                                                                                                                                                                                b
                                                                                                                                                                                                bruce3404 Jan 13, 2012 05:31 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                I went out to the original in Queens for dinner tonight. It was superb and I had a few dishes that were off-the-menu in Queens, but on-the-menu in Manhattan. The Laotian Som Tum was the best I've ever had outside of Isaan. The Pad Ped Moo Korb was the best Isaan dish I've ever had, including Thailand or Laos. My only disappointment was that they were out of Beer Lao. My point in posting here, however, is that the waitress in Queens mentioned that they refuse to cook anything close to Thai hot in Manhattan because so many dishes were coming back as too intensely hot. I stuck with 4/5 on the heat scale in Queens, broke a nice sweat, cried a river and walked out with a superb endorphin rush.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: bruce3404
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                                                                                                                                                                                                  foodwhisperer Jan 13, 2012 09:26 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'm no big fan of Zaab Elee in Manhattan. Too inconsistent for me. I don't even think it's authentic Isaan food, when no one I spoke to there was from Isaan. I had many home cooked Isaan meals in Thailand, and many restaurant foods also. I don't this this place is the "real deal". Some of the laab is good. It sounds like the one in Queens is very good, based on your review, you seem to know Isaan food very well. I will try it, but is it called Zaab Elee, i hope the food is zaab elee aka aroy mag

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: foodwhisperer
                                                                                                                                                                                                    s
                                                                                                                                                                                                    Simon Jan 14, 2012 08:30 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Two of the managers are from Isaan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: foodwhisperer
                                                                                                                                                                                                      b
                                                                                                                                                                                                      bruce3404 Jan 14, 2012 08:49 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                      They must have a bad printer, because the menus from Queens read Zabb Elee in two different places. The waitress also mentioned that all the chefs are from Isaan; not just Thailand or Laos but Isaan; nice!

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. s
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Simon Jan 14, 2012 08:27 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  i took two Thai friends there who were visiting from BKK (a young police detective and his actress gf)...they enjoyed it, were happy that the Somdam Korat had lots of bla-ra and was genuinely spicy, etc...they'd been in town for a week and had been eating mainly at high-end French and Japanese places like Daniel, Masa, etc, so they were very happy to mix things up with an Isaan meal w/o having to cut into their Manhattan sightseeing time by going to Queens...

                                                                                                                                                                                                  but, i have found the food less consistent than usual these days, and even one of my favorite dishes, the laab pla-duk (catfish laab) varies wildly (sometimes perfect, sometimes too salty or boney)...

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. j
                                                                                                                                                                                                    jbernag Jun 29, 2012 08:49 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I can't say I was a fan. Clearly the papaya salad had been prepped a long time ago, the crispy pork laab was overly dry despite being dressed, and nothing tasted particularly fresh. I've had great Thai food during my visit to SE Asia, so maybe it is unrealistic to expect any similarities due to the difference in sourcing, but fast and sloppy techniques are no excuse

                                                                                                                                                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: jbernag
                                                                                                                                                                                                      b
                                                                                                                                                                                                      bruce3404 Jun 29, 2012 09:55 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                      It's almost unfair to compare any US Thai joint to a decent restaurant in Thailand. I've traveled there over a dozen times and I usually don't eat any Thai at home for months after a trip. Kind of like NYC pizza. I'm sorry to hear that Zaab Elee is slipping a bit. I see where our renowned Pok Pok has opened a few branches in NYC; they've received some terrific reviews for the flagship restaurant in Portland and the NY Times gave them a good review. I think they're pretty good at what they do, but they won't make you forget your favorite places in Thailand and I don't think they're as good as what I experienced during a single visit to Zaab Elee Queens.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: bruce3404
                                                                                                                                                                                                        k
                                                                                                                                                                                                        knucklesandwich Jun 30, 2012 10:12 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Zaab Elee is still unique in Manhattan. None of the places discussed on this page are at their best, or most consistent when they're really, really busy. Don't eat at jammed, under-staffed, inexpensive restaurants unless you can stomach a little chaos.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Or go at lunchtime.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: knucklesandwich
                                                                                                                                                                                                          howdini Jun 30, 2012 10:33 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                          They're not the most consistent at lunchtime, either: I've gone a few times when the fried pork could've used a few more minutes in the fryer...

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: howdini
                                                                                                                                                                                                            k
                                                                                                                                                                                                            knucklesandwich Jun 30, 2012 01:28 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I just got back from lunch there. Our pla goong was particularly delicious. And they're not prejudiced against exposing westerners to capsaicin; that one dish, served at spice level #3 contained at least a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh chili peppers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: jbernag
                                                                                                                                                                                                        l
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Lau Jun 30, 2012 11:25 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                        the crispy pork larb was never very strong there, the regular pork laab is much better

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: jbernag
                                                                                                                                                                                                          t
                                                                                                                                                                                                          tpigeon Jul 1, 2012 02:12 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                          My papaya salad I ate there last week was great.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: tpigeon
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                                                                                                                                                                                                            foodwhisperer Jul 2, 2012 08:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think the papaya salad is their best dish.

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