Qi Thai’s Lunch Specials Are a Bargain (Served Up With a Side of Zen)
The other week, we got a peek inside the newly opened Qi Thai restaurant (43rd St & 8th Ave), and I recently dropped by for lunch. Given the location, just a stone’s throw from Times Square, I came with the most modest of expectations. Those expectations were, for the most part, met and exceeded by this fledgling restaurant, which serves fairly priced, moderate-to-good food in a startlingly gorgeous dining room.
Qi isn’t exactly a newcomer to the restaurant scene, as they have another location in Union Square, and they have Pichet Ong’s help with the conceptualizing of the menu, which has an attractive line-up of sub-$10 lunch specials. Along with the experience and pedigree, they have an eye for design and aesthetics that scored major points with me. The restaurant, with its impressive roominess, snow white color theme, futuristic plastic appointments and a shrine like room in the back, is as garish and over the top as it is beautiful and calming.
The food matches the swagger of the dining room, at least in appearance, and is ostensibly a bit more refined compared to its Thai competition in the area. But the pretension ends with Mr. Ong’s menu, which seems to lose its nerve by sticking with 9th Ave. comfort food – the familiar line-up of pad thais, drunken noodles, as well as green, red and yellow curries.
But regardless how outwardly mundane the menu may be, the lunch special represents a fantastic bargain for the area – a main course which comes with an appetizer is priced between $7.95 (chicken, vegetable, tofu based) and $8.95 (shrimp, beef, or ‘imitation duck’ based). You’ll also have the option of tacking on a Thai iced tea or a small chicken tom yum soup for an extra $1.50.
The tom yum soup, which is served in a gleaming white bowl, is a modest portion, but brimming with vegetables and flakes of chicken. It wasn’t as aggressively seasoned as other tom yum soups that I’ve enjoyed – the hot, sour, and fish sauce components tamed to a level that would suit a wider audience without completely losing the soul and meaning of the dish. However, I’ve tasted worse versions of this dish, and at $1.50, it’s certainly worth ordering.
A trio of miniature spring rolls arrived screaming hot and crispy, but nearly all wrapper which overshadowed a nearly undetectable mushroom filling. They also arrived pre-sauced with a sweet and sour gloss – I wish they’d sauced on the side, as the sticky glaze threatened to dissolve that lovely brittle shell that the fryer had accomplished.
The main event in my case was a tofu Thai green curry served with rice (they’d perhaps been lent a piece from Madonna’s old brassiere collection to achieve the conical mound of rice). Like the soup, the curry suffered from a much too passive hand with the seasoning as it lacked ‘oomph’ – like watching The Big Lebowski on public television with the swear words removed. However, the generosity of the ingredients, delicate pillows of tofu, crunchy shreds of bamboo and large nubs of eggplant, made up for the listless curry.
As much as I wanted the food to pack more flavor and character, I might be asking for too much in this neighborhood. The menu and execution is clearly pandering to a broader, non-foodie customer base, which I have zero problems with – at least they know their audience. The fair price and zen-like space is the restaurant’s saving graces, and are what makes Qi worth a visit.
Oh, and they have really cool bathrooms.
The + (What somebody who likes this would say)
- A three course lunch for under $10
- Elegant plating and presentation, make the food seem fancier than the price
- Huge restaurant space and ample seating for large groups
- The aesthetics are pretty amazing, in a glossy, post-ironic, all-white sort of way
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The food, while not the worst Thai I’ve had, is nothing to write home about
- What the heck is imitation duck?
- This is the exact same menu that every other Thai restaurant gets away with
Qi Restaurant, 675 8th Ave (between 42nd and 43rd St); 212-247-8991