It’s the story of a paradise found and then relinquished to fulfill a lifelong dream.
Thai chef A Napadol hoped to make a home on Ko Samui, an idyllic island off the east coast of Thailand that she used to explore when she was young, with only a backpack. Years later, she returned with her husband, and together they lived for four months in this tropical paradise. Until they found they missed New York too much.
And so, they returned to the city to satisfy Napadol’s dream of opening her own Thai restaurant. She would name it after her favorite island.
“I want to bring that [island] feeling to Brooklyn, because we’re so stressed out all the time. I want people to feel calm and happy when they walk into my restaurant,” Napadol said.
In a previous occupation, Napadol was in the gem business—and it was cutthroat enough to make owning a restaurant seem like an outright vacation. In Samui’s interior design, you can spot geometric shapes and shimmering visual projections that make it stand apart from any other Thai restaurant. No victim to kitschy themes, it blazes its way into exciting design territory.
The color scheme is a deep aqua blue; cozy banquettes make up most of the dining room seating, while gem-shaped light fixtures and adornments give the space a chic feel. Meanwhile, Napadol’s husband, producer and remixer Hani Al-Bader, designed the room’s acoustics to ensure the music doesn’t overpower conversation.
At Samui, where Napadol is owner-chef, she delivers Thai classics done cleaner and healthier. Napadol combines the Thai cooking skills she learned from her grandmother with a desire to serve food that’s good for the body. She also tries to source organic ingredients from local farmers markets whenever possible.
It’s hard to feel guilty downing the Turmeric Garlic Chicken Wings ($9), for example, knowing that turmeric has anti-inflammatory benefits. The spice is mixed with corn flour, giving the wings an addictive crunch that’s perfect for dipping into a sweet chili sauce.
Another appetizer, the Blue Potato Chive Fritters, is made from shredded organic blue potatoes, held together in a loose lattice, mildly seasoned, and paired with a zesty cucumber relish ($9).
The Roasted Duck Noodle Soup features a deep, satisfying broth made with a plethora of spices and aromatics like star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, and pickled garlic ($14). But there’s also pandan leaf, known to help lower blood pressure, and cilantro root, which helps cleanse mercury from the body, Napadol said. Fried shallots are sprinkled on top for extra umami.
For the short rib maksamun curry, Napadol strays from the traditional recipe, which calls for the meat and curry to be cooked together, and instead prepares the meat separately in a pot of spices, simmered for three to four hours to remove any gamey flavor and much of the fat ($19). Then, she prepares the curry and adds the meat, which soaks up the flavors of cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise. The short rib retains its meaty flavor, without getting drowned out by the creamy curry sauce.
Khao soi is traditionally a thick and spicy egg noodle soup prepared with soy sauce and heavy sauces ($13). But Napadol serves her Chicken Khao Soi on a shallow plate, opting to leave just enough broth base to envelop the noodles. The result is a lighter, cleaner khao soi. But for extra heat, just mix in the tangy pickled cabbage served on the side. It complements the sweet notes in the dish beautifully.
A sign of an authentic Thai restaurant is a tray of condiments on the side. In Thailand, they’re meant for the diner to add additional flavor according to his or her liking. Samui’s tray contains sugar, chili powder, chili peppers pickled in rice vinegar, and a sauce blend of fish sauce, garlic, and chili.
Samui isn’t shy about adding authentic spice. The classic Drunken Noodles dish is made with enough bird’s eye chili to throw a punch to the throat, with a slow-spreading heat that stays faithful to the Thai preference for fiery flavors ($14).
To soothe the palate, make sure to get dessert. The Warm Banana Coconut Milk is a traditional dish made with Thai bananas, a purple variety that’s a little tangy ($8). Cooked with palm sugar, pandan leaf, and some salt, the soup is lightly sweet, with a comforting savoriness to it. There’s also the Mango and Sticky Rice Coconut Cream, featuring chewy rice with a pleasant, mellow sweetness and a little crunch from palm sugar ($8). In addition to soaking in coconut milk, the rice is doused with coconut cream just before service.
For libations, the cocktails are fun and inventive. The Spicy Margarita is a popular choice, with tequila, jalapeño, pineapple, and lime.
15 Vanderbilt Ave. (near Flushing Avenue)
5:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday
5:30 p.m.–11:30 p.m.
5:30 p.m.–10 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.