Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tales of Southeast Asia

The wreckage of our table at Skyway
I'm big into adventures. Parachuting, ice luging, cliff diving, whatever. I've done them all.* But I particularly enjoy eating adventures. Recently, I have been exploring the wilds of Southeast Asian cuisine, specifically Malaysian and Thai food. I gathered the troops for one trip to Skyway Malaysian in lower Manhattan, and another to SriPraPhai Thai in Woodside, Queens. Skyway was written up by Robery Sietsema in the Village Voice, and SriPraPhai is one of the most hotly-contested restaurants on Chowhound, due to the widely held belief that it is the best Thai restaurant in New York City. I slipped into my dungarees and set off to see for myself.

A sampling of appetizers at SriPraPhai. Crispy catfish meat salad (ha! I love meat salads!), Mee-Krob (sweet and sour crispy vermicelli with shrimp), and BBQ pork topped with garlic, chili and lemon juice. The catfish was very strange--little airy puffs with a fishy essence, and smothered with the Thai flavor trademarks of chili and citrus. The BBQ pork was supertender, though not really like the BBQ pork they sell at roadside carts in Bangkok, which is more like the Chinese-style with a red lacquering on the outside. The mee-krob was fine, though I'm not sure it needed that weird avant-garde plating.

Pedestrian red curry with chicken, and, for the sake of posterity, a vegetable: Chinese broccoli. Oh wait, the broccoli came with crispy fried pork bits. We tried. Everyone who writes about SriPraPhai raves about how spicy it is, and I don't mean to sound like I'm superbadass but I was doing okay on the tongue-singing scale. Maybe it just went numb and I couldn't tell. The broccoli was good, probably because it was swimming in pork grease.

One word of warning should you make the trek to Woodside for SriPraPhai: prepare to wait. Seriously. We went on a Saturday night around 8, and weren't seated until after 9. They close the kitchen by 10, and there were definitely people who didn't make the cut. This is no hidden gem, friends.

Skyway, on the other hand, may be. On a not-so-scenic stretch of Allen Street, it's got a goofy tiki decor and a not many patrons (or at least not when I was there, on a Friday for lunch. Though the fact that it was a Friday afternoon in the outskirts of Chinatown may explain the lack of diners. Anyhow.). I'm not that familiar with Malaysian cuisine, but given Malaysia's proximity to Thailand and my intense love of Thai sour-sweet flavor combinations, I wasn't anticipating problems finding something delicious. Indeed, my problems at Skyway stemmed more from needing to limit my ordering than trying to find something I wanted.

Chicken Rendang, cooked over low heat with coconut milk, chiles, cinnamon and other spices. This was incredible. I still crave it. The meat (which, it should be noted, is a random assortment of lopsided bone-in pieces) is tender and saturated all the way to the bone with an intense spice marinade. I know this picture might not be the most flattering, but I was absolutely blown away by this dish. The sauce has the consistency of some curries but not the flavor, and is also available on beef or lamb.

These are ginger duck noodles in soup with a duck-soy sauce broth. It was pretty gamey but still good. The duck meat in the soup is great for flavoring, but not so much for eating.

Malaysian food seems pretty cosmopolitan, borrowing ingredients and techniques from India, China, and Singapore. We got Ron Telur, a traditional Indian pancake filled with egg and onion, served with a chicken curry dipping sauce, a huge baby oyster-and-chive omelette, and Singapore-style fried rice noodles with shrimp, onion, bean sprout, egg and lop cheong (Chinese sausage). The omelette, for those who love oysters, is a ridiculous bargain at $7. The noodles were good, but a bit sweet.

We did not even begin to do justice to the menu at Skyway, which is enormous. I straight up do not know what half of the foods on there are. But I have every intention of going back to find out.

* lies.

SriPraPhai Thai
64-13 39th Ave 11
Woodside, Queens 11377
718 899-9599

Skyway Malaysian
11 Allen St (at Canal)
New York, NY 10002
212 625-1163

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