Archive for February, 2007

Take the Princess to Queens: Family Foodie Adventures at Sripraphai

February 14, 2007

Foodie moms and dads: 

Don’t reheat another Terrance Brennan Fresh Direct meal this Tuesday. Don’t rush through another early dinner at Gramercy Tavern to make it home by nanny quitting time this Monday. And please, please don’t order another barbecue sampler from Brother Jimmy’s this Saturday. Get off the island and take your little princess—or sweet prince—to Queens for ethnic adventure dining! Where else can a night of gastro-fun be had for far less than you’d spend on that Barnard babysitter and a first quartino of Barolo at Babbo?

Ethnic food may not always be easy on the baby’s digestion, but if your little one is still at the Simulac stage, habanero intolerance isn’t an issue. For our crowd, Queens is a gustatory EPCOT without the lines, giant mice and risk of sunburn. And you don’t need to book a month ahead. Ethnic restaurants may intimidate spontaneous solo diners and first daters, but they’re almost always friendly to families who just show up; we’re their mainstay clientele. In fact, I’d hazard to guess you get better service with baby in tow.

Of all the options on the 7 line, I’d start with for Sripaphai. It offers clean, articulate and utterly delicious food at an outrageous value. It’s also well-known and packed, so start early and stay late. Once you have a table, order one round of food and make subsequent selections only when supplies run low.

Don’t get lost in the vast menu. Just pick your usual Thai favorites and discover how much better they can taste off the island. Flavors pop here like they never will in the Siamese slophouses of Yorkville; and it’s not from MSG. Sripaphai simply uses better and fresher ingredients without flourish or fetish. Chiles, herbs and sauces come through in Surround Sound because they’re well-sourced and well-balanced.

Nota bene: Don’t order anything made from grapes, no matter how thirsty you get. The house-special “Burgandy” ($16/liter) clearly isn’t what has Jean-Georges Vongerichten coming back. This ethanol substitute might solve our energy crisis, but it tastes like ass in a glass. Neither grape nor place, it’s merely a misplaced state of mind. This isn’t Tabla or Shun Lee, restaurants that make a compelling, if costly, case for Asian food and wine, so stick instead to light lager beer. For the abstemious, Thai iced coffee and tea are two sensible non-boozy ways to beat the heat.

Drunken noodles are obscenely good, so double down on them for starters or for leftovers. Green curry is also a must, and will certainly help you put on a happy face. Of course, it will also give you the flushed face, copious spice sweats and fast running nose of a dedicated adventure diner. Don’t worry, these are well-earned and respected red badges of courage. Finally, fried tofu is definitely worth getting, but don’t start a Lord of the Flies fracas over the last piece. Soy beans are not scarce; preserve your hard-won connubial bliss by ordering more for you and your greedy bite-stealing spouse. Beyond that, eat just about anything, except cockles and frog legs. The former aren’t too fresh, and the latter are ground, yes, ground, into a reptilian Nestle crunch.

Desserts, like good cockles in Queens, remain a dream deferred. They’re just not what’s good to eat here. Durian fruit is stunt food, not fun food. The sticky rice treats are fine, as are the various gelatinous options made from grass and coconut, but baby pap is best left to babies. Enjoy a Thai Iced Coffee instead, then pay up, head home, put baby to bed, and kick back with a Calvados or two. You’ll be up at 7, so don’t make it three, and please, please don’t open a bottle of Burgandy.

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DB BISTRO MODERNE: Miracle on 44th Street

February 5, 2007

Welcoming warm intuitive service wasn’t what I expected in mid-town pre-theater dining, nor consistently excellent, well-priced food. Nonetheless, on a recent visit, DB BISTRO MODERNO raised the bar from greeting to goodbye.

My spouse and I arrived for dinner at the peak hour on the peak day of pre-theater rush with no reservation, no insider connections and no illusions. Nonetheless, the maitre d’ smiled, welcomed and accomodated us at one of two marble communal tables. This was precisely what we had wanted, and we got it with nary a sniffle or snort about failing to have planned ahead.

The table’s waiter (one worked all three parties) was fast on his feet but also unhurried, gracious and pleasantly non-Parisian French. In the course of the meal, he managed to adjust our wine order twice on the fly, get us the proper temperature on the foie and short rib burger while splitting it unasked, sequence an obscenely generous Marc after coffee on request and chat up a neighboring solo diner, all while serving other tables, dodging main room diners and otherwise making himself useful.

He also wrangled a pair of aggressive and obvious photo bloggers. In fact, DB seemed to be a bloggers’ paradise. When the maitre d’ observed the flashing camera and telltale notepad, he invited the bloggers to speak with anyone in the kitchen who might have insights for them. NB: Lose the notetaking at the table, and cut back on the flash photography! Blatant blogging is bad blogging and a desperate call for extra attention. Observe don’t alter the experience.

Fortunately, the food more than redeemed the ersatz amateur media frenzy. Fries were excellent, especially dipped in house mayo, where the French are many steps ahead of our Hellman’s/Miracle Whip red state/blue state divide. The burger on the other hand, was worth a detour not a journey. A bit on the boiled tasting side, it was more of a great idea than a thought-provoking act of deliciousness-making. Like Mario’s beef cheeks or Gray’s short ribs, it’s something to try and talk about. Unlike those dishes though, I wouldn’t come back for seconds. Messieurs Boulud and Tourondel, the French have a great cuisine, but let’s be clear, you’re not burger people. In the future, I’ll stick to Shake Shack.

More fun by far was the meal’s front and back matter, i.e., the appetizers, desserts and drinks. A torchon of foie gras was full bodied, full-flavored and full sized, easily enough for two. Tuna tartare was a bit CIA-level but by no means reproachable. Plus, it helped prevent a full on post-prandial crise de foie. A Banana chocolate tart and Baba au Rhum were superb takes on classics, especially the rum-soaked latter which served as a sort of digestif before the digestif. A surprisingly tasty Corey Vineyards North Fork wine, a powerful if pricey Chassagne Montrachet, and, again, that wonderful whopper of a snifter of Marc, all left me impressed by the beverage program.

Most of all though, it was the courtesy of professionally and personally adept service, from runners and coat checkers to servers and hosts, that made good food taste better. DB may not have wood smoke like Gramercy, nor flames like Landmarc, but it has the warmth of home on an otherwise cold stretch of 44th Street.