The Thai lettuce wrap fom Durian in Larchmont.
Photo by Andre Baranowski
Much more than pad Thai and green-papaya salad, Thai cuisine presents a rainbow of flavors that 914 foodies adore.
Sleepy Hollow; chuchokthai.com
Drive a little too quickly, and you could miss this hole-in-the-wall kitchen with skyline-level flavors. Tucked away behind the tree line and sandwiched between two gas stations is some of the most authentic Thai street food you’ll experience.
“We wanted to create the same experience of being in someone’s kitchen in Thailand,” owners Noi and Sean Smith explain. Noi, who does nearly all the cooking in Chuchok, is from northeast Thailand, four to five hours outside of Bangkok. However, the cuisine encompasses a sweeping tour of the entire country, from refined pad prik khing curry with kaffir lime to chive dumplings that you could buy for a handful of baht as an on-the-go snack.
The name is pronounced “shoe-shuck” — a nod to a Thai Buddhist telling of the old beggar Chuchok. After returning the king and queen’s grandchildren, he was given a feast so massive and delicious, he ate until his stomach exploded. Walking into the bright, lemon-yellow dining room adorned with Thai trinkets and posters, it only seems fitting that you could eat so much that you, too, could burst. Crispy pork buns, spicy papaya salad, and specials such as Thai iced coffee and sweet blue pea sticky rice are dishes that make you feel as if Noi has welcomed you into her home. And she’s humble about her ability to spread her culture, as well as a delicious meal. “I just really like cooking,” she laughs when asked how she can so artfully craft together elements of Thai basil, homemade chili paste, and plum sauce. With more than 10 years in the restaurant industry, Noi has developed her own style and grace around the kitchen, beyond her home-cooking skills. She and husband Sean are recent Ossining transplants, having moved up from Manhattan after owning a share of a restaurant but wanting something to call their own.
A must-have the next time you pick up takeout from Chuchok is the pad krapow moo grob, a street-style food with crispy sautéed pork blended with onions, peppers, and scallions dressed in a chili garlic sauce that is as comforting as it is authentic. And how you choose to embrace that authenticity is entirely up to you. “Thai food is not all about peanuts,” Sean explains. “The entire experience is customizable, from your spice level on.”
But don’t look to Chuchok as your new date-night spot: The restaurant currently does takeout only and receives phone and email orders that cut off an hour before they open. Don’t be surprised when those order slots fill up quickly; the food is just that crave-worthy. Set your timer, pick something delectable, and let Noi and Sean uncover a new side of Thai food for you and your family.
Sambal Thai & Malay Cuisine
Before you even take a bite of the food at Sambal Thai & Malay Cuisine, your senses are sent for a journey that requires no passport. A grand staircase and dark wood greet you upon entering. Up the tapestry-lined stairs hangs a larger-than-life custom chandelier that co-owner Anu Arora had specially designed in Hong Kong. Amid the glass lanterns hanging from the ceiling and eclectic fabric-covered booths, the only sign to remind you that you didn’t board a plane to Asia is the dual view of Manhattan and the Mario Cuomo Bridge out on the terrace.
Chef and co-owner Navjot Arora has spent years dedicated to perfecting the delicate equilibrium needed for Thai food. “Thai food is all about the balance,” he explains. “There’s savory; there’s bitter; there’s sweet. All elements are there, but if you don’t have them in balance, it doesn’t work.”
Navjot is exactly the chef you want achieving that balance. After working with Taj Hotels in India, a luxury-hotel chain that prioritizes food-and-beverage quality, he trained with a chef in Mumbai who elevated his experience. Within Mumbai’s President hotel is a restaurant called the Thai Pavilion, which for 30 years has been regarded as the best Thai restaurant in India. Its chef was sent to a remote area of Thailand for six months to learn all the practices and learn the traditional ways to prepare food. When he returned, he served as Navjot’s mentor for all styles of Thai food. That passing of knowledge is more than just cooking at this point: Navjot has the precision and meticulousness to transform every single dish into an experience far beyond a mere meal.
The Drunkman Noodles are the perfect parlay into Southeast Asian cuisine for someone who has moved beyond pad Thai and is looking to wade deeper into the menu. “It’s a little spicy,” says Navjot, “but it’s so flavorful… there’s veggies, basil, and sweet chili sauce. It’s a big hit.” Navjot creates the perfect duality of Northern and Southern Thailand, so, if you order a Northern Thai dish, for example, you’ll have a heavier spice experience, which oftentimes is complemented with salad. “Northern Thai cuisine can be more hardcore: It’s spicier; all dark meat is used; it packs more of a punch,” he says. “Southern Thai relies more heavily on sauce and curries.” He also ties in Malaysian fare, like the Malay mamak mango chicken. “There’s a lot of influence from China, Singapore, India… it’s another melting pot with other influences.”
What ties all these different backgrounds and influences all together is the restaurant’s namesake, chili samba. While the sauce is unique to each of the Southeast Asian countries, they all contain the common elements to bring the dish full circle. That’s what you can expect at Sambal Thai & Malay — an eclectic experience that guides you through different flavor profiles and landscapes, but at the core of it lay satisfying, addictive food in an unparalleled atmosphere.
Tucked away in a strip mall that’s famous for its pizza and a local cigar shop, you’ll find affordable, delicious Thai that is catered to spice lovers. Tod mun pla — fish cakes mixed with curry and then fried — are accompanied by a cucumber sauce that cuts the heat from the sharpness of the dish. Served in a banana leaf to keep the moisture, the sticky rice is a welcome accompaniment to the hearty curries that Red Lotus serves.
Here, you’ll run the full color wheel of each curry: From the red basil curry found in the pad prig king to the spiciest green curry that enrobes the protein and string beans of the kang keow wan, even the most discriminating of spice masters is left satisfied. The massaman curry is a nice break from the spice, featuring noodles that are saturated with a sweet, thick coconut milk. Also embedded in the dish are potatoes, an atypical but welcome addition to a Thai dish, that hold on to the flavor and give you a burst of candied goodness.
If you’re looking for a deviation from standard Thai, with a variety of curries and soups that are desirable even in the dead of summer, you don’t need to head to the grandest restaurant you can find. Sometimes, delicious comfort food can be had at a strip mall in New Rochelle, with a hair salon and pet groomers, directly across from a car dealership.
New Rochelle; redlotusthai.com
Bangkok City Thai Kitchen
The full bar immediately demands your attention when you walk into Bangkok City, followed closely by the bright-red chairs against light, weathered-wood walls, sweet chili, and freshly shaved ginger. Bangkok City is a delicate crossover of traditional Thai with a nuanced flair. For the connoisseur, pad see ew (Thai stir-fried noodles) and spicy basil noodles are readily available. For those just willing to dip their toes into the fare, Bangkok City offers familiar fusions, pairing chicken wings with a tamarind sauce and top neck oysters with sake. For a lighter side of authenticity, the restaurant offers a spicy mango salad and a Bangkok beef salad, just in case noodles aren’t your thing but you don’t want to miss out on the experience.
With a rotating variety of fresh-caught seafood offerings of the day, you can enjoy a crisp tuna ceviche in tandem with Thai-style calamari. Need another incentive to get your friends together for a night out? On Tuesdays, a bottle of wine will run you half the price. It’s the perfect casual spot for dinner, with tremendous portion sizes and a laid-back environment.
Essential Thai Ingredients
Known for being the basis of pad Thai, rice noodles are a versatile staple in Thai cooking. Find them anywhere, from under a hot bowl of curry to being served with a spicy chili sauce and vegetables.
Thai fish sauce (nam pla, in Thai)
This sauce is made by fermenting fish with salt and adds a tangy brine to dishes like braised meats and soups.
This paste can either be red, yellow, or green — the last of these being the hottest. Find this ingredient served with chicken, pork, coconut, or tofu as a curry on its own or added to marinades for an extra kick of flavor and heat.
Often used in curries, coconut milk is a very prominent ingredient in southern-Thai-style dishes. Coconut milk can be found on the dessert menu, as well, paired with sticky rice to create a sweet pudding to balance out even the spiciest of entrées.
As simple as it sounds, this oil blended with spices is incredibly versatile. Spoon over noodles, add to fish, or use as a dunking sauce for a crispy chive pancake.
If you’re wondering what that sour taste in your salad is, the culprit is vinegar. Used as a base in most dressings, it also pairs well with lime for many Thai dipping sauces.
Cristiana Caruso of New Rochelle is a local journalist who loves a good meal as much as she loves a good story.