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Chic, Upscale and Authentic Thai at Songkran Thai Kitchen

Every now and then it'll surprise you.

Between my first visit and subsequent ones, the menu changed to reflect a few dishes that were not available, both of which I tried to order during my initial meal. Most notably, the "chef's tasting" appetizer was gone, supposedly, as my waiter informed me, because the chef wasn't comfortable with it. There are plenty of other great dishes to choose from for appetizers, though, like heavenly beef: incredibly tender steak made melt-in-your-mouth by a three-day preparation process that involves marinating and cooking twice.

One of the best dishes at Songkran isn't a main course or even an appetizer. It's a simple side of Thai-style green beans, cooked until soft but not mushy, crisp but not raw. They're stir fried with vinegar, honey, red pepper flakes, ginger and lots of garlic, then topped with fried shallots for texture. The dish combines a number of the ingredients I love the most — fresh veggies, spicy red pepper flakes, pungent garlic and a hint of tangy fish sauce. I don't know how you could go wrong with a dish like this, but I also didn't know it could be so, so right.

I was less impressed with the crispy duck in red curry, a meal usually reserved for special occasions in Thailand, and as such, made with the utmost care. It's not a bad dish at all. The duck is tender and rather than being cut into chunks, much of it is left on the bone to extract maximum flavor. The skin is crisp on the outside (as the name suggests), though softened slightly by soaking in the curry. It's the curry itself that failed to excite me. It tasted like every other red curry I've ever had, and I'd been hoping for something more from chef Jett. Something as impressive as the whole red snapper or the heavenly beef.

Chef: Chef Junnajet “Jett” Hurapan carefully plates the whole fried snapper so it looks like it was plucked out of the ocean mid-swim.
Yuri Peña
Chef: Chef Junnajet “Jett” Hurapan carefully plates the whole fried snapper so it looks like it was plucked out of the ocean mid-swim.
Interior: Songkran features a beautiful design that's simultaneously chic and modern and evocative of the rich history of Thai art.
Yuri Peña
Interior: Songkran features a beautiful design that's simultaneously chic and modern and evocative of the rich history of Thai art.

Location Info

Map

Songkran Thai Kitchen

1101-08 Uptown Park Blvd.
Houston, TX 77056

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Galleria

Details

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Heavenly beef: $9

Wok mussels in red curry: $10

Clay pot crispy duck in red curry: $19

Whole red snapper: $28

Wok chili green beans: $7

Son-in-law eggs: $6

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The same red curry sauce finds its way into the mussels on the appetizer menu as well, though here it's improved some by the briny flavor of the soft bivalves. It's a new dimension to the same old red curry, and I appreciated the slight tweak in the flavor. I even dipped the heavenly beef and green beans into the mussel-laced curry, hoping to soak up every drop. I maintain that neither version was spicy enough, but it's definitely improved by the addition of seafood.

Though meat is prepared thoughtfully, it's the seafood that stole the show for me at Songkran. When the server returned to clear the table after lunch, there was some leftover red snapper, and I asked to take it home. You can eat the skeleton, he told me, gesturing to the prehistoric-looking beast left on my plate. It's brittle, he said. Try it.

I snapped off a piece of the tail and dipped it into the pool of tamarind sauce still left in the dish, then bit down on the hard chunk of bone and found it to be sweet and crunchy. It was like fish candy.

That was the first time I've ever asked to take a skeleton to go.
_____________________

"Don't mention the movie Chef," my friend warned me. "Those jokes are already tired."

I couldn't help but bring it up, though, when the server recommended that I order the chocolate lava cake for dessert.

"Is that like a molten chocolate cake?" I asked, recalling the scene in the film where a restaurant critic rails against the dessert for being passé and, beyond that, not actually molten in the middle. When I was informed that, yes, it is indeed the popular late-'90s-era dessert featuring a chocolate cake with hot fudge sauce in the middle (often served à la mode), I was determined to try it, if only so I could, indeed, make a Chef joke in my review.

The joke was on me, though, because I'll be damned if that chocolate cake wasn't delicious. It wasn't challenging in the way a dessert at Uchi or Kata Robata might be, but it was good. The cake itself was light and fluffy, almost like an angel food, and the soft interior was more reminiscent of warm chocolate mousse than generic hot fudge. It was safe but eminently satisfying.

That's true of Songkran Thai Kitchen as a whole. It's not the dynamic Thai food of Vieng Thai, but it's good and hearty and easy for the average diner to digest. With Songkran, chef Jett is finally showing off his style of food, and, like the molten chocolate cake, it's classic and comforting, and every now and then, it'll surprise you.

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9 comments
edith-bourdain
edith-bourdain

The ignorance and inexperience of the Press's food critic and her editors' are on display so often these days, taking the paper into laughingstock territory. I returned several months ago to Houston after living in California for a few years, and I am shocked at the direction that the paper's food coverage has taken. Kaitlin Steinberg seems to be forever aching to establish her credibility by injecting  history or sociology or name-dropping into her writing, but in doing so does nothing other than display her pathetic lack of knowledge. First, the dessert mentioned in this review was "invented" in 1987, and second, it is not a "fudge" center, but indeed, one of molten chocolate. There is a difference between hot fudge and molten chocolate, and any decent food writer should know that. These facts are easy to discover on the internet, but more importantly, when one knows not of what one writes, one should make sure that one does not come off as ignorant. And one's editors should not allow that one to seem ignorant. This is just example of a long string of idiocy.


"Is that like a molten chocolate cake?" I asked, recalling the scene in the film where a restaurant critic rails against the dessert for being passé and, beyond that, not actually molten in the middle. When I was informed that, yes, it is indeed the popular late-'90s-era dessert featuring a chocolate cake with hot fudge sauce in the middle (often served à la mode), I was determined to try it, if only so I could, indeed, make a Chef joke in my review.


The joke was on me, though, because I'll be damned if that chocolate cake wasn't delicious. It wasn't challenging in the way a dessert at Uchi or Kata Robata might be, but it was good. The cake itself was light and fluffy, almost like an angel food, and the soft interior was more reminiscent of warm chocolate mousse than generic hot fudge. It was safe but eminently satisfying."


Is it true that the writer is in her 20's and that this is her first job? Why was the Press unable to find anyone more experienced? Does she not even know that Thai cuisine is diverse and covers a broad spectrum where "heat" is concerned? What does the following mean:


"Most of the food at Songkran is fairly straightforward, and though it strives to be as true to Thailand as possible, it ends up being a little toned down, no doubt to please diners like the ones I overheard asking the server to have the kitchen make the curry as mild as possible. If one thing can be said about chef Jett, it's this: The man knows his audience." This is bullshit? What does the paragraph mean?


To quote Andy Ricker:



"First of all, not all Thai food is spicy, not by a long shot. Certain dishes are inherently spicy because of cooking traditions and regional preferences as well as flavor balance. For instance, the Southern Thai curry kaeng tai plaa (Sripraphai makes a good version of this) is typically very hot, a little bit bitter, not sweet at all and very fishy tasting. To order kaeng tai plaa “mild” and “sweet” “with tofu” would throw all the rest of the flavors out of balance and make a mockery of the original concept, which in the right hands can be an absolutely amazing dish…

Second, not all Thai people like to eat spicy food (and by “spicy” I am referring to chile-hot, which is not the same thing as spicy in Thai culinary tradition). I have many friends in Thailand who are more fearful of hot foods than Americans typically are.

Third, there is no standard for chile-hot so the whole “star” system in use at many restaurants has no real meaning; “Spicy” is such a subjective thing from person to person as to be impossible to codify. Typically, the Thai table has condiments on it (fish sauce and Thai chilies, crushed dry chilies, fresh herbs, aromatics, etc. depending on the type of food you are eating) for diners to adjust the flavors themselves."


I learned nothing from this review other than the writer's ignorance.






tdorsey1
tdorsey1

@edith-bourdain How eloquent. 


You must be so missed in California. 


Why not move back.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@edith-bourdain I appreciate your concern and the time you spent drafting that very long response, but in regard to the whole "spice" thing, I maintain that not only were dishes generally intended to be spicy (as in hot) not very hot, but also that those intended to have a depth of flavor achieved through the use of various spices were lacking.


And as far as molten chocolate cake is concerned, I'm aware of when it was invented, but I also think the peak of its popularity was in the mid to late 90s. I've also seen it prepared both as a flourless chocolate cake and as a cake into which a frozen cube of fudge is inserted prior to or during baking. 


I think ignorance is not knowing that there's more than one way to prepare most dishes. But what do I know? I'm in my 20s and an idiot.

edith-bourdain
edith-bourdain

@KaitlinS @edith-bourdain I am not concerned, honey, but you should be, because it is writing such as found in this review that is cementing your reputation. (And my "long response" took no time at all to write, dear, it was easy and came quickly.) Keep up the great work!

 
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