Tacobite - 905 Lorimer St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn
A chicken taco, a pork taco
I was helping Pat move from his Greenpoint apartment out to Boerum Hill. Along with his brother Jim, we loaded his CDs and books into boxes and drove them through the borough. Around two, whenever our mild hangovers started to wear off, we all went out in search of food. Jim suggested a new taco stand down by McCarren Park. I hadn't had a good taco in ages, so I quickly and optimistically agreed.
The cold was muted, even letting through a thin sun, as we walked up to the stand. It was attached to perpetually empty Monsignor's Restaurant and next to a mechanic's shop. The large board listed beef, pork and chicken tacos, as well as burritos and burgers. There were also Styrofoam plates taped to the window that listed specials such as chicken quesadillas and Coronas. The Mexican man behind the window pulled it open and took our orders. It turned out we all wanted the same thing, a chicken and a pork taco. As per usual, I asked for mine sin cebolla.
While we waited for the food to be made, Jim, Pat and I checked out the sale next door. In front of the mechanic's were tables and tables of fun junk, including John Kerry dolls, creepy frog statuettes, extension cords, coloring books and floodlights. To think, I could've done all my Hanukkah shopping right then and there! A few minutes later, our lunches were ready, the warm soft tortillas wrapped in aluminum foil. We brought them back to Pat's still-messy apartment and dug in.
The tacos proved to be very good, with their most admirable quality being their spicing. Far more dynamic than most Gotham Mexican, they had a complex mix of herbs and spices. Surprisingly, they even had a little heat and also came with lemon wedges, for fans of an extra citric touch. I did prefer the chicken to the pork though, the latter being ground and less satisfying. Also, they needed to be eaten right away, because letting them linger a little too long caused the lettuce and tortilla to soften. Still, Tacobite was a pleasant Sunday surprise, well worth its price and the walk. If Pat didn't have to be out of his apartment by the end of the week, I could see us making a lot more visits to the stand. 7/10
Sripraphai - 64-13 39th Ave., Woodside, Queens
Fried Watercress Salad w/ Chicken, Shrimp and Squid; BBQ Pickled Pork Spare Ribs; Beef Drunken Noodles; Southern style Curry with Chicken; Fried tilapia filet with Chu Chee Curry; coconut rice; Doughballs with Coconut; Coconut and Tapioca in Banana Leaf; a Thai Iced Tea
In Spain, I dreamt of curries, red or green, with splashes of coconut milk. In Germany, I longed for the fried crunch of watercress stalks. In Prague, Budapest, Sarajevo, I craved a heat as complex as multivariate calculus and flavors that lingered for days. In other words, all through my trip, I was dreaming of Sripraphai (see Jul. 10, Feb. 5, Jan. 8). When I left the country for three months, I knew that I’d miss my friends and my CDs and constant Internet access, but I was surprised to learn just how painfully I’d miss that excellent Thai restaurant in Woodside.
I shouldn’t have all that surprised that good Asian food was hard to come by in continental Europe, and that spicy Asian food was even more of an anomaly. Even here in New York, Thai kitchens frequently douse the heat to appeal to a larger audience. But I’ve yet to have a bad experience at Sripraphai, or even one that hasn’t had me speedily reaching toward the water glass with a fire-stricken grin. So since my return, I’d been counting down the days until I could fill the table with some of the best and most affordable plates in the city, until I could pour another classic concoction over the mound of coconut rice, until I could fill my plate with noodles, seafood, and greens. That moment finally came on Sunday.
Pat, Manny and I met up at seven, where the smells of crispy pork and peppers were already exhilarating me. Manny, in his first visit to the restaurant, suggested I take the lead and order for the table. He knew how to win me over. The problem though wasn’t in choosing the few star dishes, but the stars among stars. “You can’t go wrong here,” I explained. “It’s more about what you really like or want to try.” After some brow-furrowing deliberation, I set us on a path of action, with two appetizers, a noodle dish, a curry and a fish, mixing in old favorites with some new ideas. Manny wisely asked our very sweet waitress to stagger the meal.
First up was the fried watercress salad, one of my desert island picks. Every time, it astounds me with its abundance of textures and flavors. Manny claimed too that he was “blown away,” a very high compliment considering that he can be a tougher critic than Henry VIII, and Pat happily agreed. Our other appetizer, the pickled pork ribs, were also dead-on, a sour, piquant glaze jazzing up the familiar taste of ribs. They disappeared far quicker than the well-sized portion would’ve suggested.
Arriving next were the drunken noodles, the Southern curry, and the tilapia filet. The noodles were just as delicious as I remembered them, but somehow the other bolder dishes managed to outshine them. The curry, Southern because of the region’s even greater predilection toward heat, didn’t disappoint with its blazing taste. More importantly, the temperature didn’t mute, but instead elevated, all the other wonderful flavors. The winner of the night though may have been the fried fish, which all of us kept helplessly returning to. The fish itself was fresh and succulent, soft inside and crispy outside, and the sauce served as an addictively interesting complement. I also enjoyed the large halves of Thai eggplant scattered throughout.
Finally, we decided to finish with desserts, even though I warned that they were kind of peripheral to the Sripraphai experience. We pressed on anyway, and picked out two of the plastic containers our waitress brought over. One was soft balls of dough topped with coconut and the other was a base of tapioca pearls topped with a firm coconut cream wrapped in a banana leaf. I enjoyed them the most, probably because I knew not to expect too much. Of all the courses, dessert was the only one I didn't dream about. However, just about everything else about Sripraphai turned out to be a dream come true. 9/10
From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out
- Name: Lonesome Hero
Tuesday, December 06, 2005