Someone has created a shining silhouette of a tree with nails on a wall painted black. The room is dark, with a black ceiling and a blood red wall behind the bar. It feels a little like a club for moody teenagers. The room is filled with the high, nasal sounds of Thai conversation.
A waitress seats me next to a slender woman dressed for a night out (or possibly, a night working in another restaurant) who has three large plates of food in front of her. One of the dishes I think I recognize from a Yelp review: weaver ant larva salad. This is, I believe, a dish peculiar to northern Thailand, where in summers farmers dig up weaver ant colonies and harvest the larvae.
I order raw shrimp in fish sauce and a plate of silkworms. I confirm with the waitress that the servings of silkworms are not very large, because frankly I’m a little nervous about this dish. The waitress is concerned about my tolerance for spicy food, but strangely not about my tolerance for pupae.
The shrimp come first. They are beautiful—shelled, whitish, and glassy. They rest in a circle on a bed of sliced cabbage, with thin slices of garlic cloves nested in their tails. They are marinated; the first bite yields complex flavors that take a moment to decipher. There is the aggressive sting of chili peppers; but there is also a cool, refreshing flavor that I think comes partly from galangal. The flavor of the shrimp comes through, of course, though it is more subdued perhaps than the flavor of cooked shrimp. I cannot detect any fermented fish flavor in the shrimp, which is what I expected the fish sauce to contribute, but this comes later, in the aftertaste.
The silkworms, when they come, are much more abundant than I had expected. And they are, well, not beautiful. They are fairly large, about the size of bees. They have a golden color, and they are ribbed, or segmented. They burst in your mouth, and release a flavor that is reminiscent of sesame. Mine are unevenly prepared—some of them are quite salty, almost like a soft version of roasted peanuts, and others have more of the natural flavor of the insect. I ask for a box to take most of them home.
To finish my meal, I have steamed bread with custard. Quite good.
Note the hours below, and the “Karaoke” in the name. Come after dinner hours, and you will find a different scene from what I’ve described above.
Playground Bar&Bistro and Taitoon Thai Karaoke
7130 Roosevelt Ave
Jackson Heights, New York 11372
Mon – Tue, 5pm – 4am
Thu – Sun, 5pm – 4am