Few things could ever persuade me to venture through the crowds of Times Square, but when a friend told me of a cocktail at the newly opened Qi Bangkok Eatery named "Krungthepmahanakhon Amornrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit" (pictured), I couldn't help myself.
Even if the food were terrible, just getting the bartender to say the full name of that drink (technically the formal Thai name for the city of Bangkok) would have been worth the trek to 42nd Street. Luckily, Pichet Ong would not have you battling hordes of tourists just for a gimmicky cocktail. The lauded sweet-turned-savory chef, who hails from Thailand, has crafted a playful menu of "classic" and "select" Thai dishes to accompany the restaurant's colorful drinks.
The night begins with Chive Taro Corn Dumplings ($5.20, pictured left), emerald gems of vegetables and starch dunked into a bath of chili soy sauce. The flavors were more Chinese than Thai, but the relatively mild dish worked as a great intro to the spicier dishes on the menu.
Mussel Pineapple Red Curry ($8) or Gang Dang Hohy Supparod, with its plump grilled mussels drenched in red curry cream and bits of pineapple, tends to the sweeter side. A touch more heat would have perfected the dish.
By far the most interesting menu items are the "Authentic Bites," individual servings of uniquely Thai dishes ($4.50 each). Ong dresses up the traditional pla tuu, or salted mackerel, in his Kao Nahm Prihk Pla Tuu, served with the spicy nahm prihk shrimp chili paste so common to Thai cuisine.
Sai Uoh Nahm Prihk Noohm (right), featuring the famous Chiang Mai pork sausage from Northern Thailand, is a bite not easily shared with others. The fragrant sausage, flecked with kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, is dressed with a spicy long chili relish and crispy pork skin.
Lastly, the Kai Yiew Mah Gra Prahw Grob (left) highlights the Chinese-influenced "thousand year old egg," a gelatinous preserved egg that has been coated and fried. The egg comes topped with a spicy minced chicken salad and a touch of Thai holy basil, which leaves a distinct herbal flavor that ties the dish together.
The last several dishes had us craving more "Bangkok Selection" menu, but alas, the confines of being a Times Square restaurant has kept the restaurant more approachable than adventurous. But even Qi's restrained menu still has moments of magic in the bar bites.