Flatiron Lunch: Jaiya is Your Local Spicemonger
Every Friday we go south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.
My personal Thai food history is a bit of a pad Thai haze. I’m not proud. But I have been working to expand my horizons and really search out the best in town, which brought me to Jaiya.
I first started hearing about Jaiya Oriental-Thai years ago from a friend who would regularly make pilgrimages to the original outpost in Hicksville, Long Island, which, sadly, seems to have closed. But lucky for us, the New York City location is thriving. I had previously gone for dinner a handful of times with much success, so I was thrilled to find out they have a lunch special.
First, I will preface this by saying that the interior of Jaiya is a bit fusiony. Is the waterfall really necessary? Also, the dark interior with neon glowing lights might remind you of the inside of a limo. In addition, there is a lot going on with decor featuring different types of wood, wall coverings, colors, etc. Not to mention the flowers in bizarro colored gel-filled martini glasses on each table as decoration are almost enough to make one hightail it out of there… or just call in an order for pick-up and enjoy your food elsewhere.
When I called in the order, they said it would be ready for pick up in about 10 minutes, but I made the mistake of waiting for the hostess to finish taking a phone order when I got there. Instead, I could have walked right in as my food was waiting for me packed up on the bar.
Like many Thai lunch specials you start with a few appetizer options and then you have the many dish styles that can be mixed and matched with different meat or veggie options. I decided to order the green papaya salad to start, with the Thai basil chicken and brown rice as my main. A friend ordered the tom yum puk soup and the lava chili with shrimp and white rice. We both requested medium spicy (more on that later.) If you can’t read the menu above with all the glare, you can find the full menu on Jaiya’s website. (Warning: make sure your computer speakers are off or at least low before going to the site; they have terrible elevator/porn music playing on the site which might cause concern at the office.)
My papaya salad confused me a bit at first – I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t look like papaya. It wasn’t until later when I reread the menu that I was reminded that it said GREEN papaya (the young and unripe fruit), which explained why it tasted more like a crisp root vegetable and not a wedge of ripe papaya (sorry! I told you I was a bit of a Thai food newbie.) The salad also contained green beans, peanuts, chili flakes, carrots and tomatoes. After tasting the refreshing lime juice, I decided to save my remaining few bites for the end of the meal. I was glad I did since the food was so spicy it was nice to end with a palette-cleansing acidic salad. I say “few bites” because it didn’t even fill up a small coffee cup.
For my main dish, the Thai basil chicken and brown rice tasted outstanding together (and separate for that matter). I noticed at least two forms of Thai basil, one fresh and other crispy, perhaps dried. Strangely, my friend got about twice as much white rice as I did brown rice. I am not sure if this is common (is it meant to be an assumption on the desired portions of someone ordering brown rice or just because brown rice costs more than white?), but I found it odd and annoying.
The lava shrimp consisted almost entirely of chilies, garlic and some rice to give it some volume. With just 5 shrimp in the dish, I came to the conclusion that it was really only a vessel by which to consume seriously spicy sauce. It was tasty in addition to being spicy, but it reminded me too much of eating Frank’s Red Hot with rice. I think the dish would have been more enjoyable with chicken, beef or even tofu, since the protein would help the lava sauce serve a purpose.
This is a great time to segue to a quick warning about the spice level of Jaiya’s food. As you may remember, we ordered all of our dishes medium, and my dish had a ton of chilies and heat to match. If you don’t like at least a little heat on your meal, I don’t think I can recommend Jaiya to you with a clear conscience. Every Jaiya meal I have had has been at the minimum “somewhat spicy”. Additionally, the levels are somewhat unpredictable. For example, medium is sometimes hot, and mild is sometimes medium. My friends tell a cautionary tale about a trip to Jaiya in Hicksville where a Medium dish was so hot a friend’s mother, who is Indian and cooks with every type of chili, was sweating. Now that I have issued all of these disclaimers, I can say I love spicy food and Jaiya never disappoints.
Jaiya’s food is much more unique than the ML Thai norm. Yes, they do have pad Thai on the menu, and even with my shady past (in Thai food, at least), my friend who first introduced me to Jaiya highly recommends the pad Thai, so I am sure it is also in my future.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Perfect for those who love spice
- Great, relatively authentic Thai
- Large selection of proteins with many options of different curries, sauces, noodles and rices
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Not for those who can’t handle the heat
- Portions should be larger
- The décor and website are super cheesy
Jaiya Oriental-Thai, 396 Third Ave. btw. 28+29th, 212-889-1330