Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
The Qi brand of restaurants aim to blend in to the neighborhoods they inhabit, and Qi Thai Grill, which quietly opened in a Williamsburg warehouse two weeks ago, does well to assimilate to the ever changing neighborhood. It does so with two newcomers to the neighborhood: the dessert mad scientist Pichet Ong and Sripraphai, the owner of the eponymous celebrated restaurant in Woodside, Queens.
Like its older siblings (there are also Qi restaurants in Union Square and Times Square) the space is deliberately and meticulously designed. The dining room is flanked by walls lined with reclaimed wood banisters from Thai houses; the bar stools are the same rickety ones that you would sit on at a night market in Bangkok.
The room is softly lit by frosted skylights during the day and rows of bare Edison bulbs at night, creating an ambiance that is much closer to a 'Brooklyn-style' restaurant than any of the multitude of Thai restaurants just a few blocks south on Bedford. Though the restaurant is large—4,000 square feet divided over two levels—it's divided up by ornate wood panels to maintain pockets of intimacy.
The size and ambition of the space is matched only by the pedigree of the chefs who designed the menu. Sripraphai Tipmanee, of the famed Thai mecca, contributes a selection of Kin Lehn (small plates that are meant to be shared). The most popular so far is her Spicy Pork Trotter ($8.90), which is marinated in five spice and sautéed with Thai chili, green peppercorns, and chili jam, then topped with fried basil leaves.
Pichet Ong contributes several grilled dishes (Pihng Yahng) that are inspired by the street stall offerings of Bangkok. He also brings his confectionary acumen to the desert menu, which has more creative options than just your standard sweet sticky rice. There is a Taro Mousse ($7.90) wrapped in sponge cake and topped with coconut cream, as well as inventive flavors of ice cream and sorbet ($9 for 3 scoops) such as Chocolate Thai Chili and Thai Red Bull Lime.
The rest of the menu is helmed by Chef Kea Siwalisa who also offers up several dishes that also won't be found in many American Thai restaurants. Her Qi Pad Thai ($14.90) is a take on Pad Thai Hor Khai, a seafood-centric sauté of glass vermicelli, tofu, sprouts, and tamarind juice, all wrapped in an egg white crepe. For those who aren't ready to delve in to beef tendon and fish balls, there is an obligatory selection of 'classic' Thai dishes like Pad See Ew, Tom Yum Soup, and a mix of curries (red, green, panang, massaman) served with your choice of protein (chicken, beef, imitation duck, tofu, or, shrimp).
Qi Thai Grill looks ready to wear many hats: casual enough for affordable lunch specials or family dinners (with stroller space), with options of intimacy for date nights or larger space for big groups. Check out the slideshow for a closer look at their dishes.