Thai Rock: An experience fit for a Rockaway renaissance

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Who would have thought that Queens’s sleepy beachfront appendage would become a magnet for hipsters, foodies and the media in the summer of 2011? Credit for this revitalization belongs to the arts community.

As in other formerly marginal New York City communities, cachet was bestowed in exchange for cheap rentals. Artists, in turn, attracted more artists, who became both the purveyors and consumers of cultural amenities like Marina 59’s ArtBloc, a Far Rockaway nonprofit that uses shipping containers as art galleries. The Boggsville Boatel, which offers funky floating accommodations is already sold out for this season. New stores are catering to a wave of urban wave riders and a strip of artisanal food vendors has sprung up along the boardwalk and beyond.

Robert and Metta Kaskel moved to the Rockaways from Manhattan in 2009 with no intention of opening a restaurant there or elsewhere. When they spotted the then-defunct Rockaway Lobster House with its vista of Jamaica Bay, it reminded Metta of the piano bars common in her native Thailand. She should know as she owned an operated a piano bar there. There she had a strong connection to both food and music, as her father is a renowned Thai composer and her sister both cooked and sang in Metta’s piano bar. The collapse of the Thai currency in the late ‘90s precipitated her immigration to the US.

When the lure of that perfect waterfront space became irresistible, they struck a deal to lease the former Rockaway Lobster House and turn it into a Thai restaurant and entertainment venue. They have realized their dream with Thai Rock, serving authentic Thai food with music on the side (or maybe it’s the other way around). Once again, Metta’s sister Karog is in the kitchen.

The food at Thai Rock is simultaneously both authentic and not. The dishes are all from traditional Thai recipes, many that you won’t find elsewhere, but the fieriness has been tamed to please Western palates. That means that if you love your Thai food really spicy, you’ve got to let them know that in no uncertain terms.

You can’t go wrong with any of the appetizers. Thai dumplings, made fresh every morning, are a must. The shrimp rolls were three jumbo shrimp escaping the bondage of their crispy rolls, and offering their tails as handy handles for dipping in a sweet characteristically Thai sauce. Curry puffs were a lighter airier version of their Indian cousins, samosas, with a chicken and potato filling. The dipping sauce was lighter, too.

The Larb Pla Todd, while tasty indeed, was not what I was expecting. Larb, which can be made with a range of protein components is a famous dish of northeast Thailand (Issan) and Laos. Usually, the meat or fish is finely chopped, and mixed with plenty of khao khua — roughly ground toasted rice which gives it a distinctive granular texture. The version here features batter fried sole fillets over a fragrantly herbal mango salad, and possibly a barely noticeable sprinkling of khao khua. Maybe not so authentic, but very enjoyable.

Kang Ped Yang is roasted duck prepared in Thai Rock’s red curry sauce surrounded by chunks of pineapple, cherry tomatoes and peppers with plenty of basil. The duck meat was super tender and not at all fatty. The porkchop, two actually, was less successful, being rather dry and overcooked.

Naturally, as you would expect of a bar and entertainment venue, Thai Rock has a full complement of exotic and standard cocktails and drinks. They also have sweetly pungent house-made ginger ale made from real ginger.

Cap it all off with a sweet dessert like Thai ice cream, coconut or green tea, in a playground of tropical fruits like lychee-like rambutan and jelly bear-like palm seed.

The Bottom Line

With the Rockaways’ Renaissance giving every good reason to hit the beaches, consider Thai Rock destination dining. You can watch the sunset from their outdoor deck and hang around for some music. You can arrive by boat and tie up to their deck. For the most part, clubs and good food have about as much affinity for each other as Republicans and Democrats. Here’s a place that breaks that mold. Let’s hope our legislators can break some molds, too.

Thai Rock

75 Beach 92nd Street,

Rockaway Beach, NY 11693

(646) 455-3991

Price Range: appetizers $7-8, mains $15-22

Cuisine: Tamed Thai.

Setting: Waterfront outdoor and indoor dining

Service: Accommodating

Hours: Open seven days for lunch and dinner, entertainment nightly, weekend brunch specials.

Reservations: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Valet on weekends

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Various events nightly, check website or call

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Lively

Updated 11:10 am, October 12, 2011
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