I’ll admit it. I felt a little tingle after
walking through the doors of the new SEA Thai Bistro in Williamsburg.
Yes, I smirked a bit at the sight of the nubile young women perched
atop the restaurant’s hanging swings, and a couple passionately
kissing in the Valley of the Dolls-style plastic chair. The reigning
queen of popularity and impossibly blonde cheerleader of my high
school, Lanie Buntner, came to mind.
I imagined asking, "Hey, Lanie. How’s life in the suburbs?
And the three kids? Me? The usual. Hanging out at SEA. SEA, the
Thai restaurant in Williamsburg? I’m there all the time."
Without missing a single, up-to-the-minute restaurant design
motif, SEA embraces all that is current – a Zen-inspired visual
stroking; a "yes, I belong" nod of affirmation for
those who have never doubted their hip quotient and those who
If you guessed that the room’s logo is the fish, or a fish tail
or maybe its fin then you’re too banal for this place. The bubble
is the buoyant logo that surfaces in various forms about the
loft-like space. A huge, mirrored, disco ball casts shimmering,
bubble-like reflections on the walls; wooden partitions with
brightly lit, cut out bubbles, in tones of red and green, divide
the restaurant into different dining areas.
There are two bars: one smallish, intimate one in the front and
a larger one in the back. Center stage of this "Eyes-Wide-Shut"-techno-playground
is a large pool presided over by a life-size golden Buddha. A
small wooden boat filled with deep purple and white orchids floats
about the Buddha’s ankles. Couples sit along the border of the
pool on cutting-edge (I mean cutting-edge. You’ll understand
after an hour) wooden tables with matching benches. Without the
DJ’s continuous stream of loud, pulsing club music, the room
might seem serene.
Around SEA, large groups of young diners ate, drank and partied.
Why not? If you’re willing to forgo the designer drinks (I don’t
recommend passing up the mouth-tingling, pineapple-ginger martini
with its shards of chewy raw ginger) and you stick to curry or
one of the noodle dishes, it’s possible to get away with a $20
tab and feel oh so hip while you’re at it.
What a glamorous room. If only the food lived up to it.
The owners of SEA are Mr. Lenny Lim and Mr. Kiti Lerpanaluck
who operate the small chain of three Spice and one SEA Thai restaurants
in Manhattan. While SEA offers a greater selection of seafood
dishes than the Spice restaurants, the menu is similar and contains
the same flaws that plague the kitchens of its Manhattan cousins:
stellar dishes aside duds; beautifully plated arrangements that
are sometimes flat on the palate; and occasionally, heavy, over-sweetened
Nothing could be more attractive on the plate than the jade seafood
dumplings. A cluster of pale, pistachio-colored wrappers, fluted
along the top, sit in a puddle of slightly sweet, mild, apricot-colored
massaman sauce. Stuffed with a mixture of tender crab meat and
shrimp, the dumplings were given some oomph from the sauce, but
that pretty ruffle of wonton ends up as a mouthful of gumminess
– nibble around it and you’ll appreciate the delicacy of the
Mussels in a light, clear lemongrass broth lacked the distinctive,
briny mussel flavor I love. The broth though, with its acidic
notes of lemongrass, galangal (a root with a peppery, ginger-like
flavor) and lime leaf, enhanced by crisp slices of green pepper,
tasted clean yet complex.
Salads, noodles and curries are offered as entrees, but seafood
is considered SEA’s specialty. Jumbo shrimp in a clay pot looked
promising. An abundance of pink, oversized shrimp, served over
vermicelli in a clay pot, were bland and somewhat mealy. The
vermicelli absorbed the dish’s gingery broth, and velvety chunks
of bok choy lent the entree textural interest and a satisfying
depth of flavor.
Here’s the dud: the dark SEA fish. Nothing, not even an assertively
flavored, perfectly cooked filet of salmon, could withstand the
ladle-full of cloying, over-sweetened oyster sauce, too heavily
laced with soy sauce. The salmon practically floated in it. Over
the top of the fish were slivers of harsh, raw ginger, and a
mound of julienned carrots added nothing to the dish. Even a
side of nicely sticky black-and-white rice, mixed with some of
the sauce, did little to tame its aggressiveness.
Why put pecan pie on the menu of a Thai restaurant?
I tasted it and still don’t know. A thoroughly American version,
this gooey pie, plenty sweet on its own, comes topped with a
hearty spoonful of honey. Microwaved to the temperature of hot
coal, it nearly glowed.
A vivid, grass-hued, green tea ice cream, served in a long, glass
beaker, was not sweet and tasted cleanly of the astringent tea.
Despite its culinary flaws, SEA is the perfect place to take
out-of-town guests who want a "cool, New York-style"
dining experience. My in-laws would love it. Lanie would unearth
her dusty pom-poms and give it a foot-stamping, hip-swinging
SEA Thai Bistro (114 North Sixth St.
between Wythe and Berry streets in Williamsburg) accepts Visa
and MasterCard. Entrees: $6-$13. For reservations, call (718)