Food Reviews: Singha Thai

SINGHA THAI
West Babylon (631) 669-8200

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The tiny Singha Thai restaurant sandwiched into the middle of a West Babylon shopping center brings to mind the often-heard observation that sometimes good things come in small packages. This pipsqueak spot next to an empty, dark storefront was a nondescript Japanese restaurant until last June when Jenny Jiang came along. She turned it into a low-cost, high-quality Thai restaurant that has, over the intervening months, been attracting more and more value-conscious diners. When I visited, its modest prices were paired with a BYO regimen that made for even smaller checks.
Ms. Jiang’s diminutive, sixteen-seat, difficult-to-find, bare-bones restaurant offers substantial portions and a huge menu as well as those gentle prices. Almost as significant as soup and starters, as low as $3.95, and main courses that begin at $8.95, is the upbeat, eager-to-please Jenny Jiang herself. Her experience as a waitress includes stops at Long Island Asian mainstays. She’s hired two chefs, one from Manhattan and the other from Thai Station in Merrick.

The red chilis that identify hot and spicy dishes on her menu are accurate about half the time and, unfortunately, more like the toned-down Americanized listings encountered at many local Thai eating places. The latter dishes that lack snap, punch and heat are tasty, but more like smooth, soothing Chinese fare than peppy, fiery Thai cooking. Among the former are goong ta kai or lemongrass shrimp ($13.95) propelled by peppers and chili paste and tom yam goong ($3.95) a spicy shrimp soup that lives up to its name with peppers and lemongrass doing the heavy lifting. More frequently-found dishes on Singha’s menu include melds of harmonizing ingredients. That’s the case, for instance, with gang masamun ($11.95), a rich white curry dominated by coconut milk and dotted with potatoes, onions, peanuts and chunks of chicken or beef. Another pleasant dish without any discernable kick despite its red pepper marking is goong pad tua fug yoa ($13.95). It offers admirable textural contrast with its shrimp, string beans, basil, lime leaves and chili paste, but no heat.

Pasta lovers should target the drunken noodles ($9.95), stir-fried, broad rice noodles paired with basil, onion and bell peppers, and pahe wooson ($13.95) or pan-fried clear noodles with shrimp and a mix of vegetables that includes shitake mushrooms and tomatoes. The first is listed as spicy, the second is not, neither is. But heat-adverse diners will be especially delighted with the mango chicken ($12.95) that contains super-fresh mango stir-fried with tender, moist chicken, sweet peas, onions and pepper in a sweet and sour sauce, as well as the thin lemongrass marinated pork chops ($12.95) that are full of flavor generated by their lemongrass, galangal (a ginger-like root), garlic and lime juice marinade. The pad Thai ($8.95), Thailand’s signature dish is a bit disappointing here. It’s on the dry side with slightly rubbery noodles and little of the egg promised in the menu.

Recommended starters include crisp, greaseless fried mini spring rolls ($5.50); light, white, tender fried calamari ($7.25); steamed shu mai, a tasty bargain at ($6.50); and best of all are deep-fried shrimp wrapped in crisp noodles, a well-done Thai classic at $7.50.

Desserts are the usual suspects. Fried banana ($3.95), ice cream ($3.95), sticky rice and mango ($5.75) and Thai golden bread with ground peanuts ($6.50).

photos by stephen lang

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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.