When chef-restaurateur Sirirut Sompongpiput (who goes my Noi) and her husband, Sean Smith, left their Midtown Thai restaurant for a new location in Sleepy Hollow, they went through every potential name in the book. Almost everything was taken. Smith picked Somponpiput’s brain, asking if there was a Thai folktale about food. There was: Chuchok, the buddhist monk who was rewarded with a sumptuous feast by the king. Unfortunately, his gluttony overtook him, and he ate so much, his stomach exploded.
You’ll be tempted to do the same at Chuchok Thai, which opened in February. The tiny restaurant has been massively popular. The kitchen is about the size of a food cart, and Sompongpiput is the only chef, making reservations and calling ahead essential. “Some people get mad at me because I’m turning them away,” says Smith. “And we make the food fresh, so it takes longer.”
But Chuchok is worth the wait. Nestled on the first floor of an old Dutch-styled house, Chuchok’s interior has a homey feel, complete with cute decorations, bright yellow walls, and personal touches. The food, too, feels personally cared for. “Everything that comes out, I taste. It’s like I’m eating with my customers,” jokes Sompongpiput.
To start, try Chuchok’s selection of international appetizers. While some items are not originally Thai, they are all treats popular in Thailand and are common street foods. The Japanese-style chicken pot stickers are a customer favorite. The Indonesian satay and Indian roti are perfect vehicles for the chunky house-made peanut sauce, and the shrimp rolls are best dunked in a homemade plum sauce that will put you off the pre-packed stuff for life. Pair your apps with some Thai iced tea with lime, a lighter version of the classic drink.
Next, get the Papaya Salad, the only dish on the menu that Sompongpiput will not make vegetarian. While most dishes use oyster sauce in place of more pungent fish sauce, the salty, briny, ocean-y taste is integral to the salad’s flavor. Made with shredded, unripe papaya, this dish is a light, sweet-and-sour, spicy yet cooling staple. Tomatoes and lime juice bring acidity, while green beans provide a bite of subtle sweetness (and relief) from the heat of the chilies.
For an entrée, try the green curry with beef, a fragrant, spicy, coconut-based curry, colored green by cilantro and basil. Flash-fried eggplant retains its texture and flavor, and crunchy bamboo shoots lend a mild, unique flavor.
Of course, any Thai restaurant in America must serve pad Thai, and Sompongpiput takes hers seriously. “I take care of my pad Thai like a baby,” she says. It takes years of experience to retain the dish’s signature long, unbroken rice noodles. Stir fried with a tamarind sauce, egg, scallions, shrimp, and diced dried tofu, the noodles are topped with crisp bean sprouts, ground peanuts, and fresh lime.
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