Qi Thai Grill
176 N. 9th Street, Williamsburg
Once you’ve gazed upon a horizonless parade of Kama Sutra statues, any meal might seem a bit bland. In Qi Thai Grill’s low-lighted, unisex, black-tiled bathroom area, where men and women wait together for stalls and wash up in a claw-foot tub that has been refashioned into a communal sink, a wall of infinity mirrors reflects a row of small, stiff-necked, nude and entangled figurines for as far as the eye can see. Standing before millions of little clay hands clutching plump thighs, hips and boobs, I wondered if it would be more appropriate to describe Qi as a date spot or a starting point for the sort of bachelorette bar crawl in which the bride-to-be blows a penis-whistle to get the attention of her drunken ladies-in-waiting. I guess it could go either way.
The two-story, 200-seat Qi could be the next SEA Thai, with Qi’s wooden spindles and dim Edison bulbs replacing SEA’s mod balloon-shaped swing-seats and neon lights. Despite its sprawling size, Qi offers plenty of nooks and crannies for canoodling. Our banquette table for four was nearly dark enough to reenact some of the pleasure positions displayed in the bathrooms without anyone noticing. But I longed for the unflattering fluorescent lighting of SriPraPhai, the beloved Queens joint that contributed a few dishes to the menu, as one friend blindly bit into the rather gelatinous and chewy SriPraPhai-style beef tendon and asked, “That wasn’t a dumpling, was it?” Though the tendons were balanced by a bright-tasting salad of mint, lemongrass, scallions and toasty rice powder, the mouth-feel of connective tissue isn’t the most pleasant of surprises. The boudoir lighting seemed more suited for recognizable textures and flavors like a soulfully spicy chicken curry, with the heat of chili paste cutting through sweet, tender chunks of pumpkin and creamy coconut milk. Chive taro corn dumplings were a bit bland, but the green papaya salad made a fine version of the classic takeout dish, sparkling with spicy chili-lime dressing and salty, crunchy roasted peanuts. A simple and delicious side order of toasted bread with peanut sauce helped balance the chili-boosted heat of the meal.
The menu also includes a collection of dishes created by well-known chef and cookbook author Pichet Ong, including sticky, crispy-skinned chicken wings glazed in sriracha and kaffir lime, and a double-shot of roasted pork and pork belly, both of which were on the dry side and got most of their flavor from a cinnamon-soy dipping sauce. Ong is known for his desserts, and it’s worth saving room for them at Qi. The rich taro mousse with coconut cream, toasty sesame crumbs and floral green tea ice cream packs bite after bite of sensual delight—no infinity mirrors required.
Photo by Phakkapol Pasuthip