Monday, June 7, 2010

Two Perfect Meals and one Disappointment, NYC: Omen, Red Hook Ballfields, Sripraphai

Well, I had a near trifecta of perfect meals this weekend, starting on Friday night when meeting Ivan for dinner in Soho.

Soho is not a location I'd ordinarily seek out, but we were going to a party later at 60 Thompson. The problem is that the restaurants haven't changed much since the '90s, when I worked in the neighborhood and got sick of every-thing. Stumped, I checked Salmaland, but didn't find a suggestion right for the moment. Finally I remembered Omen, a place I used to frequent with a friend in yes, the 90s, but always loved. And man, it has only gotten better. The sushi was of higher quality than any I've eaten in NYC in recent memory, including Blue Ribbon, Nobu, Japonica and 15 East. And Omen isn't really even a sushi restaurant, it's a Japanese restaurant that has sushi among a menu of other options. We ordered a tempura and a mushroom and vegetable dish, both of which were divine. The vegetables, served warmish in a puddle of mild broth, were the kind of vegetables like my Canadian friend Jason Logan made one night at a dinner party and I've never forgotten, vegetables more like vegetable-shaped jewels. Vegetables with dense or rich or creamy textures like no vegetable you've ever eaten. Like some elaborate hoax where the vegetable has been sculpted out of hot custard. But no, they are just vegetables, cooked in secret Canadian or Japanese ways.

Omen is also nice because it's a small restaurant with a beautiful interior brick wall and exposed shelving holding an eclectic collection of pretty little Japanese dishes, deployed with flair for matching the food. And the clientele is romantic and subdued in an old New York, almost Woody Allen way. Loved it.

The second stellar success was the Red Hook Ballfields, about which so much ink has been spilled, I need not add any more. Latin American food carts out every Saturday in the summer with the stuffed-tortilla papusas from El Salvador, tacos, slathered-and-spiced grilled corn, horchata, sickly sweet aqua fresca, etc. A great summer day trek from Ikea or pre-Fairway. Probably because I live in Red Hook, I've been less than a convert to this phenomenon. It's way hot over there and the lines are long. However, this weekend, I became a true believer. The lines weren't that bad, and the papusas from the Salvadorian cart were the world's most perfect marriage of flaky-light tortilla, shredded meat and gooey cheese. Also, my picky little papoosa ate an entire one, and was begging for more.

The disappointment was Sripraphai, another super-cult New York place, this time for Thai, and buried deep in Queens. Ivan and I go here pretty regularly, and for a while I have been contending that it doesn't live up to the hype. Yes, it is better than most NYC Thai restaurants. They load on the chilies in real Thai-style, salads have that stinky fish-sauce funk, meats are battened in sugar.... But, it's still restaurant Thai, that is, junky, somehow unwholesome Thai. We are spoiled because we are better Thai cooks than you'd find in any restaurant. But we don't think this restaurant is really worth the long subway ride out to Queens.

1 comment:

  1. I've been feeling wishy-washy about Sri for a little while too, even before we went to Thailand last year. Back in the day, it was exhilarating, but I can't tell if I got jaded or if it actually changed.

    Now Peter and I go to Center Point, two blocks down. The food is cooked by one woman, and served by her daughter. There's usually a table of men sitting and sharing a bottle. We're still undecided whether the food is better, but the atmosphere is great. And it's still BYOB, like Sri used to be, so it feels a lot cheaper.