Sunday, October 5, 2008

birthday dinner #1: Sripraphai

This post combines discussion of two meals at Sripraphai, the butt-kicking Thai place in Woodside. Priya, Erum, Sam, Jonathan, Katie, Nooria, and I had been trying to go for a few weeks, but circumstances conspired against us: we forgot that it was always closed on Wednesdays, so our planned trip a few Wednesdays ago was called off at the last minute; then they went on vacation for a week, so we had another last-minute cancellation (we went to Kabab Cafe instead, which was awesome--see earlier posts). Finally, on Sunday, we were able to make it happen. As luck would have it, Priya's parents were in town, and as they enjoyed the place, we made plans to go again on Thursday--my birthday! So two Sripraphais in one week--lucky me!

We took extensive pictures on our first trip, but not so much on the second.

Both times we were sure to get the fried watercress appetizer. I've had it enough that I'm no longer surprised by how they were basically able to make fried lettuce work, but I still enjoy it greatly. On Thursday, I thought it was a bit subpar, though--the watercress seemed, maybe, overfried? At times it was like eating dry pieces of straw. I think I happened to only pick stems from the plate, not the leaves, so it may have simply been my fault for choosing the worst pieces. Still, maybe stems quite that thick shouldn't have been served if they were going to taste crappy. Don't get me wrong--I will definitely order it again, and it's one of the best dishes I've had there out of my 4 or 5 times getting it.

We also got a meat salad (laab?) with ground pork and shredded mango salad. I really enjoy how pretty much all of the appetizers (the aforementioned watercress salad included) come covered with super-spicy chili oil and scattered with squid, chicken, shrimp--protein you maybe didn't expect you'd be getting. We also got the mango salad on Thursday, and I think that day it was the spiciest of all the appetizers, even moreso than the spicy bbq pork appetizer (which I thought was OK the first time I had it, but which was definitely awesome this time--the thin slices of pork were grilled just right, with crispy browned edges).

Both days we also got a bowl of tom yum soup for the table to split. I've had tom yum dozens of times, but for some reason it's only really ever been memorable here. The broth is very tangy, sour enough to constrict your throat a bit, but lemongrassy and savory. Highly recommended--another thing I didn't mind eating twice in a week.

Next came the green curry with chicken, which I still maintain to be the only green curry I've ever had that I really like. I'm not sure how, but their sauce is unbelievable, especially over their equally-unbelievable coconut rice.

Both nights we also got the drunken noodle--in fact, on Thursday we got both the pork and chicken versions. One of the most consistently pleasing dishes here--I even tried to replicate a version of it at home back when New York magazine published a Sripraphai recipe for ground chicken with Thai basil--I can't quite explain how it's superior to a flat-noodle dish like pad see yew you'd get at a more conventional Thai place. Priya's dad was disappointed by the ground dark-meat chicken they used, but I think that enhanced the dish for me--I've come to appreciate the flavor of dark meat poultry more than white.

A misstep: sliced duck with Thai eggplant. I love duck, I love eggplant, I wanted a Thai eggplant dish, and Sam agreed with me. It looked great and it tasted fine, but was really nothing special. I didn't think the duck flavor was pronounced (while Erum thought it was too ducky), and there weren't many Thai eggplants in it at all--I only got one-quarter of an eggplant. After we ate it, I had a vague memory of being seduced by the duck-eggplant dish on my very first outing to the restaurant, for Priya's birthday last year, and having an equally tepid reaction. Okay, never again, I've learned.

We'd previously gotten the whole red snapper cooked with ginger sauce and thought it was amazing, so we thought we'd try something different this time--the snapper with lemongrass sauce. It was one of the most pronounced lemongrass flavors I've ever had--in a good way--and wasn't overrun by a panoply of different flavors, like in lemongrass-flavored soups. Ultimately, I think the ginger fish was a bit better, but the lemongrass fish was still delicious. I especially love how the fish are fried rather than grilled, so after someone has picked it apart for the table (Katie was our fish-picker) there's crispy knobs of fish skin mixed with the snow-white flesh and flavored sauces.

our fish-picker Katie also selected a dish I hadn't had at Sripraphai before: beef penang. I've only had rendang at Malaysian places, so I was interested to see the Thai take on it. The sauce was thick and extremely spicy--coconut milk and chilis thickening the beef juice, I guess? Even the whole bird peppers floating around in it had taken on the sauce's flavor, so I was eating them and getting progressively sweatier. Great choice, and one of the top dishes of the night.

We also got a couple of vegetarian dishes on the side--Chinese broccoli and mustard greens. At first we tried to order the Chinese broccoli with salt fish in it, but the waitress was like, "Are you sure? Very, very salty. Only for Asians." Ultimately, we decided to get it the white-people way, but now my interest is piqued--how salty is too salty? The mustard greens were very strange--they came with big chunks of two types of tofu, and didn't look like any kind of mustard green I'd had before--almost like chopped bok choy or celery ribs. Did we get the wrong thing? Not really sure, but it was pretty good, so oh well.

On Thursday, we also got the pad Thai with chicken. When Bill had ordered it a couple of months ago, it hadn't seemed very good, but this time it was fine. I don't think it was super-special, but I enjoyed it. I'm not sure how I feel about how it comes deconstructed (with the bean sprouts, peanuts, etc. all put in neat little piles around the plate for you to combine on your own), but maybe I'm just used to the Americanized version.

Also on Thursday, we revisted a dish I'd had a few months ago--C17, the chili-basil pork leg. I'd thought it was very good before, but on Thursday it really shone and burned itself into my memory. Nobody seemed to want much of it except for me and Dennis, so we were happy to finish it off. Cooked perfectly so it was falling apart, with a crispy fatty skin on the outside, it had some kind of sweetness to the braising liquid we couldn't quite place--tamarind? Cinnamon? Actual brown sugar? I don't know, but it's on the very top of my Favorite Things To Get At Sripraphai list now. Again, it was so good I even ate the chilis that came with it. Although I didn't get a picture, here's the one I took a few months back:

Two great meals, not sick of the place yet!

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