You’ve Got To Ring Them Bells!

by Florence Ondré

For years on Long Island, New York, have been praying for some really good Thai restaurants to open.  There have been a few but they were pedestrian or too far away to pop into.  And being lovers of Thai food, my dear Tom and I like to pop in several times a week.

In Seattle, Washington, there are Thai restaurants on practically every block and they range from good to fantastic!  So, we got spoiled spending time there and coming back to Long Island to only wishes for that kind of taste bud wealth, left us hungry for that quick and fresh ingredients cuisine.

Since Superstorm Sandy decimated so much of Long Island and people are a year and a half later still not rebuilding or home, we figured the Thai food Angels would most likely wait to grace us with our palate’s desires.  After all, first things first, satisfy the hunger to be safe home and leave the wishful dining yearnings for a later date.

Then one day while in my acupuncturist’s office; chatting with the front desk staff, I heard there actually were two new Thai restaurants open and close by.

I ran to the one and got a look see (and smell) and took a menu home.  No aromas of cooking or much Thai ambiance but, hey, it was a short drive andI thought, ‘give it time to get on its feet and then check again.’

The second recommendation was a small corner place in the west end of Long Beach on the Island’s South shore.

This area had taken the hardest hurricane hit and had been literally crushed under sand as the Atlantic ocean met the bay.  The sleepy, little bungalow part of the City By The Sea, as it is known, had been buried and broken badly.  Before the devastation, this barrier island community had seen three other Thai restaurant tries; one of which failed with part Chinese food, another which served authentic Thai deliciously prepared dishes sort of faded away.  I expect that arising from the over long wait for the food to make it from ordering to eating.  I finally stopped going there because I called it ‘the ass breaker meal!’  I like to linger with friends over a good meal but the wait was interminable here and winding up with my head face-plant down in my food dish from exhaustion at day’s end, didn’t ring-a-ding for moi.

The last was a small place in the center of town, next to the busiest pizza parlor, across from the commute to the Big apple, train station .  The food here started out good.  There were a few bumps, and still are with getting the order right, but they had a salmon salad and a crispy duck salad to die for!  Decent Pad Thai and Massaman Curry, Kee Mao, Kao Soi and pretty good Thai iced teas kept us coming back to this tiny modern place with a quirky waterwheel in the window.

They, unfortunately, were flooded under, like every other business on the main drag and, in the new  hard times; trying to scrape together a rebuild, had to cut some corners like everyone else.  Though the duck and salmon salad stayed good but got smaller and the staff got a little short on accommodation and Thai smiles, it was the moldy water from the flood ravaged pipes which was served and tainted their former sweet tea, that pushed us to stop settling for a dream that had faded.  I suspect their still being in business aprés, storm of the century, has a lot to do with location, location, location!  And, yet, I still hope for their full recovery in the future.

After the new reco, off we went to the west end, with all it’s bungalows now being remediated like Katrina homes, put up in the air on stilts; looking for all the world like blocks of random Jenga games for adults.  And lo and behold, the Angels shone a light on the corner of Beech Street and Wyoming!  Yea, verily and forsooth, Ra-Kang, 895 W. Beech St, 516-442-1313, turned out to be manna from Heaven in a recovery from Hell.

The place is wonderfully appointed with walls full of Kangs (bells) of all shapes and sizes. The architecture is walls of wood cut out to create depth and texture; many sized bamboo fans covering the ceiling;  a wall waterfall shimmering down quietly and a wait area decorated with two round avant garde wicker work, black and red puffy pillowed chairs which look straight out of a museum or grand Royal house, awe and make the diner feel fortunate among men.  I didn’t know whether to sit in them or photograph them, so I did both!

The owner pleasantly greeted, sat us and the wait staff surrounded us in those famous smiles.  We felt like we were in a Thai house on the outskirts of Chang Mai.

The menu is well rounded and fresh ingredients abound. We ordered an appetizer which looked like the Koong Sarong we love so much from Marnee Thai in San Francisco.  Here on their menu they’re named Shrimp Basil Rolls.   Several big shrimp with fresh basil inside a fried wrapper was served in a large Martini glass with fresh greens and a sweet and sour sauce.  First bite, I thought I’d gone to Heaven or been transported on my tastebuds from the City By The Sea to the City By The Bay!  Divine!

They have Ping Yang, three mix and match, skewered meat (or satay) of pork, beef, shrimp, duck, chicken and lamb.  We tried the duck, lamb and chicken.  Delicious with hearty Peanut  and Tamarind sauces to complement.  Excellent!

Their Mussamun Curry (Massaman-different places spell it differently) was served in a graceful, brass curved-handled serving bowl and was sweet and fruity with Tamarind, carrots and chicken.  (one could have beef or tofu as another choice).

We went back three times in a week and a half.  Tried the Mee Krob appetizer of crunchy, sweet crispy noodles with shrimp.  Every bit as good as my favorite in San Jose, California; looking like an upturned bucket, forming a small mountain on a plate. Chang Mai noodles, (also known as Kao Soi) was a fragrant, yellow curry with chicken, sprouts, shallots, egg noodles and crunchy noodles on top.  Total Yum factor!  They will make it as spicy or mild as you like.  They also do a lovely, fresh, basilly Kee Mao wide-noodle dish with fresh vegetables (with or without meat or tofu) in a brown sauce with a little kick (again, you can ask for your own taste bud level).  Their duck salad was fragrant, crispy and  equal to the best I’ve ever enjoyed.

Each successive time we dined, the Shrimp Basil rolls were our first course and each time they were still divine and just as beautiful as the first encounter, in taste and presentation. Big drool factor just thinking of them as I write this.

The only drawback for this restaurant, is it ‘s a bit more expensive in pricing than some other really good Thai restaurants.  Still, we return because the food is worth it, one of the best restaurants in town…and we’re hoping they grace us with their presence and culinary gifts for a very long time to come.  The thing I love about this restaurant (other than it’s proximity to my house) is that it is one of the most gorgeously appointed restaurants and the food is equally as magnificent in both looks and taste!  I’d say Ra Kang rings all the right bells and is a Thai trifecta!!

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