Friday, May 23, 2008

Best Thai at Sripraphai; gruesome garlic grapes

AG had aged another year, and I met up with him, MC, and MH at the acclaimed Sripraphai in Woodside to have dinner in his honor. I first discovered this place back when it was just a cluster of tables in a small store lined with dried goods and snacks, and back then I found it to be one of the most eye-opening Thai restaurants in the city. Over the years I've been happy to see it stay one of the best around, and even with its massive expansion on the heels of a stellar New York Times write-up several years ago, the food has remained consistently superb.
We started with the crispy catfish salad, a wild mix of herbs, red onion, green papaya, fiery green chilis, roasted cashews, and the aforementioned crispy catfish in a sweet, sour, spicy vinagrette. I don't know how they turn the catfish flesh into the lacy, crunchy puffs of fried matter above, but no matter: the salad was great, the kind of dish that really wakes up the palate.
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Tom yum soup and chicken green curry, both really good, though the soup was a bit on the salty side. The creamy, spicy green curry is a dish that in Chinese we would describe as being "xia fan," meaning it has the characteristic of being both appetite-awakening and delicious with rice.

The coconut rice we ordered to go with our meal is one of my favorite items at Sripraphai. I have never gotten this kind of rice anywhere else that offers the same rich intensity of flavor. Though I imagine it's meant to be eaten with curries or their other dishes, I've found that the fluffy, slightly sweetened grains are balanced with just enough salt to warrant eating the entire bowl by itself, with no need for any other accompaniment. In the past I have made trips to Sripraphai just to get some coconut rice for takeout.
Shrimp paste fried rice, which as you can see, is meant to be mixed yourself. This is also one of my favorites, as the textural and flavor combination of cucumber, red onion, sweetened pork, crunchy dried shrimp, snappy green beans, shreds of egg, soft rice, sour lime juice, and pungent shrimp paste is both unexpected and perfectly balanced.
Sadly, the pad see-ew was terrible, mostly because it was much too sweet, with a singular, cloying flavor. MC ate continually from this plate because the noodles, to her, "tasted like dessert." I don't remember it being this bad in the past, but I guess even for a restaurant that has mostly maintained its high quality of offerings, some things do fall off.

After Sripraphai the four of us retired back at my apartment, where MC discovered something in the fridge that made us all gag:
Grapes? you're probably wondering. Well, they may look innocuous, but these, after sitting in the refrigerator for a week or two next to a container of chopped raw garlic, had taken on a strong, pungent taste. And I must say: unlike the harmonious interplay of flavors at Sripraphai, grapes and garlic is one combination that is just downright disgusting.

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