by Linda Viertel –
Thai cuisine is a complex medley of tastes – sour, sweet, spicy and salty – and chef/owner Sirirut Sompongpiput (nicknamed Noi), has mastered this unique culinary art. She and her husband, Sean Smith, have just opened ChuChok Thai in Sleepy Hollow, and, together, they are providing the rivertowns with a winning, authentic taste of home-style Thai cooking vastly more complex and subtle than any average Thai eat-in or takeout venue.
Recently arrived residents of Ossining, Noi, who grew up cooking in her native land, then working in New York City Thai restaurants, and Sean, a TV video editor, were eager to partner in opening their eatery in the Hudson Valley’s welcoming and burgeoning restaurant world. ChuChok’s menu evidences all the color, taste, texture, and fresh ingredients Thai food is known for. And that includes healthy dishes brimming with vegetables, ingredients with hidden medicinal values, and many gluten-free choices.
Given Thailand’s colonial past and proximity to several East Asian countries, there are Indian influences found in the roti (Indian round flatbread) served with a peanut sauce (satay sauce stems from Indonesia). Noi ‘s crispy chive pancakes, have a light exterior with a soft, pillowy, almost creamy chive interior. They are served with sesame chili/soy sauce, as are the pan-fried chive dumplings (the Chinese influence). Crispy veggie rolls are accompanied by plum sauce while fresh summer rolls, rice paper filled with lettuce, fresh tofu, onion, carrot, mint and basil, are accompanied by peanut dipping sauce. Both are perfect vegetarian choices.
Chicken potstickers (6), filled with chives, ginger and chicken have a delicate crisp bottom and the perfect smooth “skins.” Meat eaters will enjoy the grilled beef meatballs, chicken satay (grilled chicken on skewers) or steamed roasted pork buns.
Thai salads pay great attention to taste and texture, filled as they are with fresh and aromatic ingredients. A delicious signature is the spicy green papaya salad (shredded green papaya with string bean, peanuts, tomato in a chili lime garlic dressing). And for a special treat, try lab gai – a ground chicken salad with crispy rice, red onions, scallion, mint and recao (cilantro) in a chili lime dressing.
Signature entrees always include a choice of chicken, vegetables, tofu, mock duck, shrimp, beef or pork belly. Noi’s traditional pad thai, recommended at ChuChok with shrimp, balances just the right sweetness – a mélange of thin rice noodle, egg, sweet radish, bean curd, bean sprouts, scallion and ground peanut – with a tamarind sauce. Pad Kra Pow, chicken with chili, garlic, sautéed with scallion and basil, a common street food in Thailand, is a savory, aromatic and garlicky treat. Pad Prik Khing, sautéed red curry paste with string beans and kaffir lime leaves becomes ethereal when crisp pork belly is the main ingredient. ChuChok’s classic medium spicy Thai green curry brims with eggplant, bamboo shoots, basil, all swimming in a delicate coconut milk broth – try it with chicken or shrimp. For an unusual taste, the massaman curry combines Middle Eastern spices – cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, nutmeg and mace – in a divine aromatic coconut milk-based broth that bathes potatoes, onions and peanuts – best served with chicken.
Thai soups are legendary, and at ChuChok Tom Yum Koon (shrimp, scallion, mushroom and cilantro) complement Noi’s sweet, spicy, creamy shrimp broth. Tom Kha Gai, a coconut milk-based soup is available with chicken or simply vegetables. And, for a basic comfort soup, the chicken rice choice delivers chicken meatballs, fresh ginger, and a chicken broth topped with fried garlic and celery. Among three noodle soup choices, somen (thin wheat) noodles accompany the chicken green curry soup.
Fried wide rice noodles are available with beef, chicken or shrimp, but vegetarians will love this offering as is, plentifully full of Thai broccoli, egg, onion, and scallion. Handmade drinks include the sweet and addictive Thai iced tea or Thai iced coffee. And, for an authentic dessert, Noi’s blue pea coconut sticky rice with sesame seeds is made with dried blue pea flowers from her family’s farm in Thailand. (You can see a jar of flowers on the counter.).
Three house-made condiments grace each table: Thai chilies, hot oil, and chili garlic sauce, plus a fourth – gluten-free soy sauce. Many items on ChuChok’s menu are marked either gluten-free or vegetarian or both, and care is taken to provide for varying diets and allergies in Noi’s individual preparation. Lunch specials (served 12 to 3 p.m.) are all served with a spring roll and house salad. Call ahead for weekly specials always listed on the blackboard.
While ChuChok provides a mere three tables, more might appear on the porch facing Philispburg Manor this spring. Serving only 8 at this time, ChuChok is an already hopping take-out spot. Call an hour ahead for pick-up and your order will be awaiting you, freshly prepared and still hot when you get home.
The small dining room is warmly painted in “sunshine yellow” and decorated with masks, Thai prints, fun Asian toys, and photos of traditional Thai royalty. A fireplace gives a homey touch, and, in case customers are inspired to try Thai cooking at home, a small grocery provides curry pastes, sriracha sauce and other ingredients for sale.
ChuChok Thai is aptly named after the old beggar in Thai Buddhist mythology who, after returning the king and queen’s grandchildren, was rewarded with riches and the best food he had ever tasted. As Noi and Sean describe what followed, “It was so good, in fact, that he ate until his stomach burst.” At ChuChok, diners will enjoy plentiful, fresh and harmonious tasting Thai dishes, and, while it might be difficult not to indulge, such a healthy, intricate cuisine prepared with Noi’s culinary knowledge will help you eat just the right amounts and return for more.
If You Go:
404 Old Broadway
914-909-5390/914-909-5391 (call ahead for take-out)