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Cravin Thai
4 Main Street
Hamburg, New Jersey
(973) 209-8424

Sample Appetizer PlatterI must confess that I have a rather sentimental attachment to Cravin Thai… Oops, allow me to rephrase: not to this particular eatery, but to the building itself. The stately former bank was originally home to two excellent dining establishments: Shelby’s (which I reviewed in June 1998) and, more recently, Kaya (reviewed in December 2006). So when my wife and I noticed that a new restaurant had taken up residence, a visit became something of a must.

The restaurant’s interior has morphed from the Shelby’s delicate lace curtains and shades of celery and “Martha Stewart” green to Kaya’s pomegranate-colored walls and yellow wainscoting to Cravin Thai’s exotically darker but still comfortable countenance… Several decorative attributes, however, have remained: the lovely pressed-tin ceiling and the diminutive antique bar. This latter venue has been dubbed the “Famous Thai One On Lounge” by proprietor Ed Reinle. Indeed, the bar stays open long after the kitchen has closed and serves up a variety of Thai-inspired liquid libations, including Mr. Reinle’s personal favorites, the “Ginger Cosmopolitan” and “Thai Coffee Martini.”

But there is infinitely more to Cravin Thai than just a splashy cocktail menu. Thai chef Torranin Sasithorn, who boasts twenty years of kitchen experience, cooks up a storm… and I was exceedingly impressed with the excellent quality of the cuisine. So if you should ever find yourself in the wilds of Sussex County in search of suitable sustenance, Cravin Thai should definitely be in your little black book of restaurant possibilities.

Among the appetizers, all the usual suspects are present and accounted for… and, for the most part, highly recommended. The chicken satay, skewered morsels of white breast meat accompanied by a rich peanut sauce, is top of the line… ditto the Thai spring rolls, a mix of vegetables and glass noodles. The golden curry puffs are stuffed with a heady combo of ground chicken, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, and just enough curry to make the taste buds stand up and take notice; and the shrimp wraps feature marinated crustaceans stuffed with ground chicken wrapped in a golden spring roll sheet.

The only starter that didn’t set off any bells & whistles was the fish cakes. And although the folks at the adjacent table declared them the greatest thing since sliced bread, we definitely found them wanting. For starters, “cakes” was something of a misnomer, as they were shaped more like large “coins.” Then there was that odd, off-putting consistency: a less than edifying cross between spongy and rubbery. And if the texture wasn’t enough to turn your stomach, the even odder taste – funky & fishy – succeeded in delivering the ultimate coup de grâce to the delicate nether regions.

Singapore NoodlesOther than the ill-fated fishcakes, however, the cuisine acquitted itself quite well… The noodle dishes (add tofu, beef, chicken, or shrimp), for example, were right on the money. The ever-popular pad Thai – sautéed thin rice noodles, smoked tofu, egg, bean sprouts, sweet relish, scallions, and crumbled peanuts – was a most satisfying take on this classic presentation… The same could be said for the Singapore noodles, a more than ample portion of sautéed soft broad rice noodles spruced up with curry powder, carrots, egg, onions, scallions, bell pepper, and bean sprouts. And for those who like it hot, be sure to check out variations on the theme: either the “Drunken Noodles” or the “Spaghetti Basil,” both mildly spicy.

Panang Curry with Jumbo ShrimpEntrées proper (choice of tofu, chicken, beef, or shrimp served with jasmine rice) include very spicy green & red curries and mildly racy Massamun & Panang curries. Of particular note is the Panang curry served with jumbo shrimp. This is a blend of herbs, spices, and mild chilies simmered in coconut milk awash with green beans, bell peppers, and kaffir lime leaves. The crustaceans were delightfully crunchy and obviously at the very peak of good health; and the broth was just enough to entice the taste buds without causing any peristaltic conflagrations.

There are also a number of special chef recommendations, which are also served up with fragrant jasmine rice. Duck, for example, may be accompanied by savory fried shallots and tamarind sauce or topped with a fiery red curry. The piscatorial presentation – usually red snapper – is served whole with a garlic-chili sauce and is decidedly crispy of countenance; while both beef and chicken are marinated in Thai herbs and grilled.

Fried BananasAs noted above, the food here is very good… However, the desserts were a big – and very pleasant – surprise. I expected a generic this and that… but both the fried ice cream and fried bananas were exceptional. The breading on the ice cream was just thick enough and a perfect golden brown, and the tapioca-rice flour crust adorning the bananas was firm yet tender… And both were treats for the eye as well as the palate.

Speaking of generic, however, that certainly describes the wine situation. I mean, no one expects the wine list here to be world class… but it would certainly could use a bit of sprucing up; especially with regard to white wines, which are exceedingly beneficial in taming some of those spicy curries.

And the wine service would benefit from a bit of shoring up as well. The white wine I ordered was opened around the corner by the bartender rather than by the server, was on the warm side upon arrival, and became even warmer sitting on the table sans any form of chilled receptacle. Additionally, I was never given the opportunity to taste the wine; our server just starting pouring – and would have filled our glasses to the brim if I hadn’t called a halt. A remedial course in “Wine Serving 101” is definitely in order.

The service in general might best be described as a combination of diffidence and indifference. Hopefully, since the restaurant has only been open for a short period of time, this difficulty will improve with experience.

On the whole, however, Cravin Thai provides patrons with an excellent dining option in a most unlikely location. If you reside – or find yourself visiting – in the area, it is certainly worth a look-see.

August 2011
The Artful Diner

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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