Food quality is often inversely correlated with the quality of a restaurant's décor. Way too often, a hip-and polished-looking restaurant serves food that disappoints. If you've ever dined in one of the many gentrified neighborhoods of Brooklyn, you know what I am talking about. On the flip side, a dull, drab looking place often surprisingly reveals quality food.
The interior of on Morris Street is far from dull and drab, but the facade is, and for that reason, I would put this Thai restaurant in the latter of the two categories: a restaurant that focuses more on the food and less on its image.
Situated conveniently across the train station, Andaman Sea Recipes doesn't look like much from the outside. About the only appealing aspect of the exterior is the several Zagat stickers in the window. Inside, Asian music plays from the speakers in this long dining room, with four booths along one side and several tables on the other and running through the middle. The walls are adorned with tall vases and bejeweled animals, and two larger-than-life parrots guard the back of the dining room.
Open the menu, and the dining experience starts to go uphill.
Torn between a whole grilled red snapper and the seafood special Pad Pong Kra Ree, I asked my server to help me decide. In a heavy Thai accent that made me like this restaurant even more, she said little to push me in either direction, pointing out that while the whole red snapper offered me the opportunity to sample a variety of sauces, the Pad Pong Kra Ree offered me a larger variety of seafood. In the end, I chose the latter, swayed not so much by my server's words, but by the description on the menu that calls this dish a favorite of Thailand.
For starters, I chose the seafood crepe, lightly fried and cut into eight wedges. An ideal appetizer for sharing with friends, this dish looks more like a paper-thin quesadilla than a crepe, as many of us picture a crepe to be a piece of thin pastry that is rolled and stuffed.
In the center of this dish was a tiny blue and white porcelain dish filled with a plum sauce, light in both color and texture, with only a hint of sweetness, a good complement to the minced shrimp, scallops and crabmeat inside the crepe.
My entree arrived soon after, a plate of five scallops, four shrimp, several squid rings, thin sliced asparagus, peppers and celery, with four mussels ringing the outside of the plate. The plate was hot, right out of the kitchen (which, at an early evening hour early in the week, had only me to serve). The star of this dish was the scallops – tender and perfectly cooked.
I incorrectly feared this dish would be Thai seafood stew. It was instead served on a flat plate and tossed in a very light, slightly spicy sauce with a hint of curry. The dish relied heavily on salt for its flavor. As I worked my way through the dish, I concluded that bringing a riesling to this BYOB would have been a good call, as the sweetness of a food-friendly bottle of white would have tempered the salt and spice of the seafood crepes and the Pad Pong Kra Ree.
The entree was served with my choice of jasmine rice, brown rice or rice pilaf. I chose the jasmine rice--not as aromatic as I had hoped, but a good side for this dish.
Beyond sated, I looked at the dessert menu, out of curiosity. The critic in me said I should try one of the restaurant's specialty desserts, such as the fried ice cream in raspberry sauce or warm bread pudding. But I was too full to fathom eating one of those desserts, so I chose a refreshing summer choice, one only offered seasonally at Andaman Sea: coconut ice cream, served inside the shell.
I expected the same icy, light, sorbet-like dessert served in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese restaurants, probably all purchased from the same source. Instead I was treated to a Thai specialty, as the thick, creamy coconut ice cream was served with peanut halves and mint leaves on top.
I didn't understand the waitress when she told me I could “eat the meat” of the coconut. But as my spoon reached the shell, I found the surprise she was talking about: a quarter-inch of coconut fruit that could be scraped from the side of the shell. Now this was a simple, authentic, refreshing way to end my meal, especially on such a hot, humid day.
As I left, two other customers were taking their seats, curious to know if the quiet restaurant was even open. I was happy to see others step for the first time beyond the brown, dated facade of the restaurant. I'm sure they were as pleasantly surprised as I was.