By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
I've been to every other Thai place in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens. At this one, we're accompanied by our friendly neighbor and his wife. He travels to Thailand twice a year for business. He never told me until I spied him drinking a Singha beer on his front lawn.
Casing The JointThere are about a dozen tables that can hold about 30 or so people, in a storefront in a tiny strip center. You really must slow down on Montauk Highway to find the place. Hint: Look for the Carvel and animal hospital.
Background CheckOpened in March 1998 by Noi Bartolomeo and her husband, Arthur, and her sister, Ninee. Noi and Ninee were formerly the cooks at Sarin Thai in Greenvale. Chaophaya was the name of the king of Noi's hometown of Changray, in northern Thailand.
The AtmosphereNoi welcomes us like we were long-lost relatives. This makes me a little bit suspicious. Maybe she's confused. I've never set foot in the place before. People who see me all the time don't give me such a nice welcome. Maybe there's something to that. She's dressed in colorful native clothes with a pendant around her neck containing a picture of Rama IX. Not Rama V, she tells us. The Ramas, I learn, are not necessarily related even though they are the royalty of Thailand. This reminds me of how Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction were all loosely linked.
We DrinkHaving never had a Chang beer, I go for it, doing a taste test vs. my neighbor's Singha. The verdict: Both beers are strong-tasting but light enough to go well with the food.
We eatMae krob (every place spells it differently) is a definitive rendition ($5.95), air-light crispy, thin noodles piled into the shape of a mini volcano with not too much sweet sauce and the requisite bean sprouts and three or four shrimp. The perfect appetizer, it doesn't fill you up. I never count this as a dish when shared between four people trying to figure if we're ordering too much.
The duck salad($7.95), featuring roasted pieces of boneless duck with onions, lemon juice, ground cashews and barely a hint of chili pepper, is the best version of my favorite dish that I've found on Long Island.
Nure yarng($11.95) is a very simple and satisfying dish for meat lovers and the squeamish. Sliced, marinated London broil with a spicy chili sauce on the side. The kicker is the tiny covered basket of sticky rice that comes with it. All the better to stick to your fork when you dip into the sauce. Lard nar ($8.95) is wide noodles with broccoli and our preferred meat of the evening, beef. Simple, but filling and agreeable.
Ganang shrimp($12.95) is served in a peanut-based (but not satay) gravy. It's a shame that there's no bread to sop up Chinese or Thai sauces. Rice will have to do.
We Get HotPad kaprow with chicken ($8.95) can be ordered with beef or pork as well. Noi asks how spicy we want it. Beware. My experience in other Thai restaurants is that if you ask for "not too spicy," your palate still gets scorched. But when I make this request, my neighbor looks at me as if I have taken the name of Rama IV in vain. I end up being right, though. The chili pepper isn't overpowering, but the licorice flavor of Thai basil is. This is not your garden variety basil you have growing outside the kitchen window. Thai basil is very potent and gives the dish a robust flavor. This seems to satisfy my neighbor, but it's the only plate not wiped clean.
Cavity PatrolWe have deep-fried ice cream with raspberry sauce; fried banana with coconut wrapped in a spring roll covered with honey and sesame seeds; tapioca with black beans; sticky rice with coconut milk. All homemade and unbeatable.
What Vegetarians Can EatNo excuse for leaving them at home, because here there are spring rolls, Thai salad, papaya salad, spicy noodle, gang puck, sauteed delight, eggplant and basil, pad tofu.
The Last WordTo share a few dishes and a dessert, it'll cost you $20 to eat like Rama IX.