Siam Emerald may be the most ambitious Thai restaurant on Long Island, but for now it's still a hidden gem. The small restaurant opened in late December on a quiet stretch of Rockville Centre across from the Cathedral of St. Agnes.
For 23 years, the small space was home to the neighborhood joint Thai Table, until it closed this July and the owners sold the space to young restaurateur Kanlayanee “Sandy” Kosapattarapim and a small group of owners. The Thailand native is a server at the Hicksville Chinese restaurant O Mandarin, and also owns Bangkok Degree in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
She and husband Eric Lo loved the idea of taking an existing Thai restaurant and reimagining it. So they pounced on the space and gave it a chic redesign, lining the ceiling with hanging plants and woven bamboo lanterns that look onto a minimalist dining room. So far, the restaurant has mostly been populated by Thai Table regulars, Lo said.
Bangkok Degree's chef Sirikorn Chujit designed the menu here, bringing her eclectic style of Thai cooking to the South Shore. Chujit began her food career at 8 years old, when she helped at her mother's street market noodle stall in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Today her menu features a lot of hard-to-find Thai specialties like spicy Northern Thai sausages and the iconic crab omelet that's become a hallmark of the Bangkok street food scene.
But Siam Emerald really differentiates itself with its fusion-y appetizers. The knockout dish is the tuna flowers ($15), which arrives on an elaborate golden stand that may remind you of an English tea ceremony. Each golden tier is shaped like a flower, and holds a little pastry cup of diced sashimi-grade tuna dusted with makrut lime leaves and assertive chile spices. Rarely do you see raw fish on the menu at a Thai restaurant, but the fatty tuna not only stands up to the sour and spice, but sings a groovy tune you want to get hip to.
Siam Emerald may also be the only place on Long Island where you can get your hands on a tea leaf salad ($14). If you've already fallen in love with this shrimpy, nutty, fermented delicacy — know that Siam Emerald's is different. Chujit put her own spin on the funky Burmese classic, julienning all the vegetables and tossing them together with lime sauce into a sweet and palatable tower with edible flowers. The fermented tea leaves don't play a large role here, and there are dried cranberries involved, but it's beautiful, like all of the dishes at Siam Emerald.
Presentation here is top-notch, and while some dishes yield more sweetness than intense chile spice, the care is evident. Lychee crispy duck curry ($32) boasts perfectly fried meat. Ba-mee moo dang/moo grob ($25) is an egg noodle dish that's a staple of the open air markets of Thailand, with roasted pork and crispy fried pork that obscures the pink gravy beneath. A yellow broth is served on the side, but the fried pork is the star, with its fatty interior leading to crispy shattering skin … a promising start for an already-interesting restaurant.
Siam Emerald, 88A N. Village Ave., Rockville Centre, 516-678-0886, siamemerald.com. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4-9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 1:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.