SAWASDEE THAI ELEVATED
395 S. Oyster Bay Rd., Plainview
SERVICE: Very polite
AMBIENCE: A sanctuary in a strip mall, Sawasdee is a lovely space to enjoy classic Thai dishes.
ESSENTIALS: Open for lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, 5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Parking lot, reservations, major credit cards accepted, takeout, wheelchair accessible.
Diners should visit Sawasdee Thai Elevated in Plainview Shopping Center for a lovely sanctuary of a dining room, exceedingly polite service and starters like a tart and spicy papaya salad, fried dumplings called golden bags and a green curry entree that sings of Thai basil.
A note to adventure-seekers: While Sawasdee uses ingredients like kaffir leaves, palm sugar, tamarind and ginger, dishes here fall within the Thai-American canon, tailored for mainstream American palates — a parallel to Chinese-American food that has earned its own genre.
While more diners are exploring regional Chinese dishes with gusto these days, it’s still rare to find restaurants that serve Thai dishes that display assertive flavors of Northern, Southern and Central cuisines — with the funk of fish sauce, the savoriness of dried shrimp or the complex heat of roasted and fried Thai bird peppers. This isn’t a criticism as much as recognizing what many restaurants feel they have to do to succeed, especially in a busy suburban strip mall with lots of competing dining options.
Owners John and Walailak Conrad know a lot about Thai cooking and cuisine, with Walailak a native and her husband a five-year expat; he returned to Long Island in 2007 with his now-wife. Named for a greeting or farewell — pronounced sawatdi — the restaurant soothes with textured walls and wood-paneled ceilings with the rhythm of a rolling hill. Eggplant-colored banquettes frame the room below giant murals, one of a temple and another of a floating market.
Grab a seat at the bar for a rum-based Thai coconut cocktail laced with lemongrass and lime. Or be seated at a table for two and order Thai iced tea made with tamarind-spiked Ceylon, finished with a cloudy splash of condensed milk.
Chartrie Dangpotichar, a Thai native who was most recently head chef at Siam Lotus in Bay Shore, runs the kitchen. While there are crossovers between menus, a few originals include those golden bags, stuffed with rice, vegetables and chicken, tied like a sack of coins, and served with a sweet chili sauce. They’re charmingly bite-sized, with a soft pouch and paper-thin fried edges. Thai wings — like super-crisp American fried chicken — are less seductive if only because they’re not Thai beyond the side of chili sauce.
Do plan on ordering papaya salad, a harmony of salty, sweet, spicy and sour notes, with shredded green papaya, peanuts and Thai bird chilies (I wish they’d hold the wan tomatoes). The larb moo is the most memorable starter for its assertive lime, toasted rice powder, cilantro, scallion and chilies. I can’t resist the ground texture of the spicy little bits.
Standouts among entrees include the gai yang, grilled marinated chicken with an Issan sour and spicy jim jaew sauce served with sticky rice. Eggplant and bell pepper highlight green curry, with coconut milk and basil served with jasmine rice. Pineapple fried rice is surprisingly bland, while the drunken noodles offer more kick with chili sauce, egg, onion and scallions. This Chinese-influenced dish pairs well with beer.
Dishes are often plated beautifully, with banana leaves lining plates and flowers carved from vegetables atop a pinch of shredded cabbage. The diners are dressed up too, attentive to the “elevated” in the restaurant’s name, here for a tailored experience among the conveniences of a mall.