Whenever there is a restaurant dubbed "best thai" in NYC, Thanan and I must be on the scene to check it out. Zabb Elee is the current contender on the foodie watch. Specializing in Northern Thai cuisine, the restaurant does not offer traditional Thai staples (i.e., pad thai, curry) on their menu, instead choosing to focus solely on their key regional dishes.
|The modern restaurant interior is stark white with small dark wooden tables and fresh floral accents|
Zabb Elee opened recently in April, and it appears they are still working out the kinks. This particular evening, either the order machine was assigning the wrong table numbers on orders, or the servers were generally confused, but incorrect dishes and bills were delivered to multiple tables all evening.
Like this soup, which I thought was complimentary, but Thanan quickly requested to be taken away (since apparently nothing is free at Thai restaurants).
Other kinks may be pacing out the dishes so that they do not clutter the entire small table. Or even just sending out the food in a sensible order would be appreciated. Our fried fish showed up first, without any sort of rice. Our papaya salad was brought out third.
The larb pla krob had a fun presentation, each piece of fish deep fried and then served back in its own fishy carcass. I'm one of those suckers that like anything served in the former shell of itself. Watermelon balls in a watermelon basket? Yes, please!
Although I liked the nice vinaigrette of lime, chili and fish sauce, most of the pieces were too over fried / borderline tough to truly enjoy the actual fish.
The papaya salad (som tum thai) was a very spicy delight. It was probably my most favorite thing of the night - beautiful strips of tender papaya tossed in a wonderful Thai chili lime sauce. Thanan fully approved and said that if this salad was just a touch spicier, it would be super authentic. Mmm. I now crave this dish daily.
Thanan insisted we order the Kao Ka Moo, pork leg on rice, because apparently his uncle ate this every day until it gave him a heart attack. I really like food endorsements like that.
This dish was a huge disappointment to Thanan. I have no idea what it should taste like, but I can tell you this one's pretty strange. If you want to eat bits of soft/mushy pork in a thick, sticky sweet syrup, then you should order this, else, I would avoid. We didn't touch this dish after the initial bite. Bummer!
Lastly, we tried the kra prao moo korb: crispy pork with fried basil, onions and oyster sauce. Again, the meat seemed over fried which detracted from the overall joy of eating pork belly. After eating a kra prao moo korb in LA that was absolutely dynamite (will blog that another day), I feel even more strongly now that this dish is not as good as it could be. Maybe we had a overcooked batch (hopefully).
At the end of the meal, Thanan and I were a bit underwhelmed from the general entrees, but absolutely enamored with the papaya salad. Best Thai in the city? Not too sure. I would come back again, but most likely will stay away from anything fried in hopes that the same spicy joy from the papaya salad will translate into other dishes as well.
75 Second Avenue, New York NY 10003