Monday, December 15, 2008

Asian Fusion

In search of a perfect bowl of ramen, my standing Sunday date and I migrated to Sunnyside, Queens, home of the tiny and somewhat perfect "Japanese and Nepalese" restaurant Hanami. Judiciously salted edamame led into two bowls of the Hakata ramen: broth made from roasted pork bones, sliced roasted pork, shitake mushrooms, pickled red ginger, springy ramen noodles, scallions, and whole sesame seeds. The broth left nothing to be desired and while the east village's Ippudo has more options, it is pricier, more more of a scene, and a little less down home.

Where Ippudo is flash--red and gold everywhere, a cavernous dining room, mirrors, crystal, large light fixtures--Hanami is subtlety. Simple wood tables and a modest sushi bar is all you get, although we were delighted to hear the wordless version of Pink Floyd's The Wall playing in the background, elevator-style with Japanese instruments.

Lunch cost a whopping $11 per person, another reason I'll be heading back. I can't remember the last time I got anything decent for $11.

Dinner found us, joined by two enthusiastic friends, at Sripraphai, long billed as New York's best Thai restaurant. Sripraphai is in Woodside and it's cash-only, so I envisioned a small spot populated only by regulars.

Boy, was I wrong. The place was slammed. When sat, we ordered in two rounds to avoid the speedy frenzy of Thai meals. Round one included chicken curry puffs served with a cucumber-onion vinaigrette (similar to the sauce served with satay), a crispy watercress salad (possibly our favorite dish--tempura-battered and fried watercress served with onion, ginger, mint, squid, chicken, and shrimp), fried pickled pork spareribs (off the bone, not too salty but very delicious), and sweet sausage with cucumber (resembling pepperoni and also very tasty).

For round two we continued on the appetizer track, ordering only one entree, the sauteed drunken noodles. The noodles came with a serrano pepper sauce on the side that was fiery but not too fiery. The noodles were toothsome and perfect and came with ground chicken, Thai basil, and cherry tomatoes that popped in our mouths when eaten. Sweet and sour crispy vermicelli with shrimp was the big loser of the evening, resembling nothing more than noodles dipped in sweet and sour sauce. Steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings were really small and delicate shumai that we collectively loved. The fried shrimp wrap was not my personal favorite--whole shrimp wrapped in egg roll covers and deep-fried--but the others seemed to like it. The BBQ beef salad, served with chili, mint, onion, and lime, on the other hand, was amazing. The beef actually tasted like beef, which sounds silly, but doesn't always apply to this genre of cuisine.

For dessert, green tea ice-cream arrived with whipped cream and tapioca. We also ordered a basil seed dessert that was pretty to look at (it looked like pink and green icecubes topped with basil seeds) but had the consistency of too hard jello. I ordered something called "mock pomegranate seeds and jackfruit in coconut ice" and although I still have no idea what exactly I was eating, it tasted very fresh and coconut-y. Finally, the ubiquitous Thai dessert, pumpkin custard, cut into cubes.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "they must have spent a fortune." And I haven't even told you about the two liters of house wine we enjoyed during our meal. But actually, all that food--and it was certainly a lot of food--plus tax and tip set us back $34 a person. In the city, that would have bought me a single entree. Perhaps Queens dining is recession-proof. Well, for now, anyway.

Hanami Japanese and Nepalese Restaurant
39-11 Queens Boulevard
Sunnyside, NY 11104

64-13 39th Avenue
Woodside, NY 11377

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