Qi Esarn Thai
31 W 14th St
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 929-9917
Site: Visit the restaurant site
2nd Cuisine: Isan
Area: Greenwich Village
2013 will go down as the year that Esarn cuisine took the city by force. Esarn (or Isaan) is the food of northeastern Thailand. Some of the main players include Zab Elee and Larb Ubol. Qi near Union Square recently revamped its menu to focus on Esarn flavors which can be a bit more spicy and pungent than traditional Thai.
The menu at Qi is influenced by two chefs; Claire Handleman whose says her travels in Thailand reignited her passion for cooking, and Pichet Ong, who I first met at his dessert bar, P*ONG. His involvement with Qi is taking him well beyond dessert.
There are familiar dishes and not so familiar ones at Qi. Small and large plates are meant to be shared. We arrived in the middle of a nasty snowstorm, and literally blew into the restaurant, in search of something spicy to help warm us up. This is not your ordinary Thai restaurant. The space is more clubbish with screens made of abacus beads and reflections of Thai figures dancing off mirrored tables. It definately puts you in a cocktail mood, which there are plenty to choose from, but we were here to try the food.
From the Esarn menu we started with Laab Pehd ($9.90), a lovely duck salad infused with coriander, mint and cilantro. It is a Chef Handleman creation. It was followed by Tum Tau Mooh Grohb ($8.90), a lively mix of sugar snap peas and crispy pork belly topped with peanuts, lime and fiery chilies. It is on Chef Ong's side of the menu. In all, we counted a dozen or so Esarn dishes, including grilled tiger prawns with Thai gooseberries ($11.90) and salt-crusted tilapia ($17.90) stuffed with lemongrass, kaffir lime and a garlicky "nahm jihm talay" sauce. Folks seeking adventure might want to dig into some Dug-darr Gub Thuggatan Tohd; fried silk worms and grasshoppers seasoned with soy and pepper. It is available as a side.
There are also plenty of classic Thai dishes to choose from. Chicken satay ($5.90) is a real treat. Moist slivers of chicken, marinated in lemongrass, are served on wooden skewers with a fantastic peanut sauce. My son devoured a large plate of coconut calamari ($5.90) which is served with a sweet chili sauce. We also feasted on Pad Thai with crispy duck ($11.90). While most dishes are properly spiced, people in search of some extra heat will most surely gravitate toward the "Fiery Pork" touted as perhaps the spiciest Thai dish in all of New York City. The pork is served in a red tumeric curry with dried bird's-eye and long hot chilies providing the fire.
Maybe during our next visit, we'll also turn up the heat some more!
Review By: Thomas Rafael