Reka’s makes an effort to please but falls short of the mark.
Once upon a time, long ago, before most Westchester diners had ever tasted lemon grass or heard of pad thai, Reka Souwapawong opened a Thai restaurant in our fair county. The year was 1985, and the response was good enough to inspire her to open a second restaurant. (The original restaurant subsequently closed). In 1987, Reka’s Thai in White Plains opened, and in 1996 it was given a mixed review and a “good” rating by the New York Times.
Today’s diner is far more savvy, and generally more aware of global cuisines, than the diner of the last two decades. And so it is, with a more sophisticated palate and better knowledge of Thai flavors, that we approach Reka’s today.
Had we hoped for fare on par with Sripraphai, the Thai food mecca in Queens? You bet—but we would have been happy with fare half as good and half as well balanced. Balance is fundamental to Thai cuisine: the interplay of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy heat is at its core. ‑
When the generous portion of pad thai arrived, the pungent aroma of nam pla (fish sauce) hit the table before the plate was set down. Upon tasting the noodles, it was, surprisingly, not the fish sauce that first hit our palates, but an overwhelming sharp, acid bite. The components of sweet, salty, and sour were all there, but they screeched out in competition rather than melding in harmony. We tried the pad thai on a subsequent visit, hoping we had experienced an anomaly on our first, but the second dish produced remarkably similar results.
On a Saturday-night visit, we were greeted by Reka’s engaging smile and warmth at the door, and as we exchanged pleasantries, she commented on how very busy the restaurant was. We were surprised, as only about half the tables were filled, but perhaps “busy” had more to do with the capacity of the kitchen and the waitstaff than the number of tables. That, at least, would have explained the very slow service that night. Unfortunately, on a later visit when only five tables in the restaurant were occupied, the service was equally slow, and our theory was blown. Our servers were, however, quite charming and seemingly eager to please.
Our server one evening was helpful as we ordered. When she suggested the tom yum goong (shrimp) soup, we mentioned our preference for a coconut broth, and she offered to make tom kha gai soup with shrimp rather than chicken (which was how it was described on the menu) for a surcharge of a couple dollars. The result tasted like canned chicken broth and coconut milk with two shrimp in it.
The broth in goong-op-mor-din, shrimp with napa cabbage and cellophane
noodles cooked in a clay pot, had a more appealing flavor. Mixed in with the shredded cabbage and noodles—and hard to distinguish visually in the soft light—was a copious amount of similarly cut piquant ginger, which overwhelmed the other solid ingredients (though, surprisingly, not the broth). A flavorful panang curry, coconut milk, and kaffir lime sauce couldn’t save the panang moo. The pork was mealy and tough, and the accompanying tempura-style (battered and fried) green beans and zucchini were too greasy to eat. The same batter later reappeared in a dessert of fried baby bananas where it was somewhat less greasy. On a more pleasant note, som tam, the green papaya salad, was light and crisp. A sweeter-than-usual dressing was used sparingly, and the customary heat was nonexistent, but the dish was refreshing.
Flavors in the pla-pla mueg (squid salad) were also light—again, this is counter to the usual preparation of the dish, but with an agreeable result. The squid was served warm and tender and the balance of cilantro, mint, ginger, and sugar allowed the sweet seafood flavor to come through.
There was nothing light—and very little that was appealing—about the ped grob, or “crispy duck” with tamarind sauce served with crispy kale. The kale was lovely: light and crunchy, with the sensation of almost dissolving in the mouth. There was nothing crispy about the duck, however. The soggy skin formed a thick blanket over the rich meat, and the tamarind sauce served only to make the dish heavier, rather than to balance or complement the flavors and textures.
We did not fare any better at dessert time, with one exception. The aforementioned fried bananas were served with one of the homemade ice creams; we tried several, and found all to have muddled flavors and icy texture. Sticky coconut rice was the better choice: it tasted exactly as it should and was accompanied by extraordinarily good fresh mango.
REKA’S THAI RESTAURANT
2 Westchester Ave., White Plains
Lunch, Mon., Wed. to Fri., 11:30-3 pm;
Dinner Mon., Wed., and Thurs. 5-10 pm, Fri. 5-11 pm, Sat. 12-11 pm, Sun. 12-9 pm