In search of sticky rice, Part II
In my continued search for the best som tum salad and its carbohydrate sidekick sticky rice, I trekked out to Jackson Heights for Thai food for my second time in one week.
I arrived at Sri Pra Phai only to find the waiting area packed with people, not to mention plenty of spillover outdoors. It was nothing like Arunee Thai where we had zero wait. Of course, that was Monday night and this was Saturday night. I put my name in and got a number, 57, and headed back out into the snow to wait. While I leaned against a parking meter I chatted with another couple about what I should order. The man said anything curry. Noted.
My cousin Will and his fiancé Irina showed up and we talked about life in our MFA programs–they had just finished theirs at Bard. While we talked we took turns staring at the red digital display to see if our number had been called. Hunger led easily to distraction.
Finally 57 showed up on the screen and we charged our way over to the hostess. The restaurant was packed but we got a nice mellow spot in the back and after we sat we quickly got to reviewing the numerous pages of photos and descriptions. Looking at menus always overwhelms me and I am happy when someone else will pick and choose for me. I voted for som tum, sticky rice and a curry dish and Will and Irina chose steamed trout, a squid salad and drunken noodles.
So, the good. Definitely the som tum. It was full of extras: peanuts, tomatoes, green beans, teeny shrimp and shredded papaya. The flavor went kapow. I was in heaven. I lifted the straw basket off the sticky rice and proceeded to ball and dunk. The steamed squid salad was good. Unusual and different as most squid comes fried. It was healthy and light with a garlicky finish. It would make an Atkins dieter happy.
The drunken noodles, big flat rice noodles along with tofu and a few vegetables was decent. It didn't scream any which way with flavor but filled up my belly. The green curry with eggplant was also good, the curry could have had more heat at the back of the throat and the sauce seemed to me a bit thin.
The big miss of the night was the fish, which appeared done but when we cut into it it was clearly still pink. It took us a long time to call a waiter over to our table and another long time to get a new dish, by then our stomachs had finally closed up shop and the fish was picked at, unfortunately.
I would go back for som tum and if I lived close it would be on my take-out rotation. Want to know more, read Frank Bruni's review of the place from 2004.