Thai Station Restaurant

There’s a story behind every restaurant. It’s often as interesting as the food it serves. That’s certainly true at the three-month-old Thai Station in East Rockaway, a cute, though plain, peewee of a place (18 seats) located unsurprisingly across the street from the railroad station. Thai Station is an immigrant saga of determination, guts, chance taking and the entrepreneurial sprit. It’s Kenny Chen’s story. The hard working Mr. Chen, who owns both the new Thai Station in East Rockaway and the slightly larger original in Merrick, arrived on these shores from China with a dream of opening his own restaurant. His drive and enthusiasm led to the opening of the Lemonleaf Thai restaurant in Carle Place, then another Lemonleaf in Hicksville and the very modest Pad Thai Chinese-Thai eatery in a dark, half empty Oakdale Shopping center, all of which were well received by restaurant critics and more importantly by diners.
He then sold the three successful spots to his cousin and brother, using the money to open the upscale Asian Shangri La in Garden City Park. Unfortunately, the area’s location and demographic weren’t suitable for a rather luxurious spot serving creative Asian fare. It failed, taking virtually all of Mr. Chen’s wealth with it. He was forced to work for a relative in the Chinatown construction business.
After two years of painting and hammering, Mr. Chen decided to roll the dice by mortgaging his home and return to his first love—restaurants—by opening the little Thai Station in Merrick. With Mr. Chen in the kitchen, it succeeded with the fooderati sufficiently enough to encourage him to open the tiny Thai Station II in East Rockaway. Situated where an Irish fish and chips spot had been, it’s a bare bones operation with a few strings of lights and food posters on the walls. Although it’s one of the Island’s smallest restaurants, it also offers one of its most ambitious menus with 26 appetizers, soups and salads, 51 entrées and three desserts. Most often voluminous, over ambitious menus aren’t a particularly good idea. Few, if any, kitchens can cope with so many dishes yet Chef Ah Dont, Mr. Chen’s nephew, does.
The familiar formula at East Rockaway’s Thai Station involves very tasty food, very inexpensive prices and zero décor to speak of. A recent dinner for six, comprised of six appetizers, six entrées, three desserts and two bottles of wine cost $171. While some dishes were better than others (the sesame chicken and chicken fried rice were ordinary, the drunken noodles and rama chicken were extraordinary), everything here is fresh and clean, portions are right and presentations are clear.
Appetizers don’t fill diners up prematurely. Delicately rendered mini spring rolls and crispy somosas, lettuce cups with chicken (first cousin to Chinese soong) and shrimp dumplings with tantalizing hints of garlic and ginger offer zing, crunch and cool. The steak salad and shrimp salad are almost too abundant for their plates, yet delicate as well.
Although the spicy chicken fried rice entrée isn’t spicy it is light going. More substantial versions of pure, authentic, Thai cooking (replete with Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian influences) were invigorating Thai pepper steak, dense and creamy Rama chicken with a velvety peanut sauce on a bed of spinach and succulent, perfectly cooked pattaya shrimp in a savory panang curry sauce.
Don’t discipline yourself anticipating dessert. There are only three predictable picks—mango with sticky rice, fried banana and three custardy ramekins of Thai coconut cake.

richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.