Walk in to any Thai restaurant and you will find the same menu featuring the typical Pad Thai, Tom Yum soup and Green Curry…but having already met Jonathan Bayer and his wife Sutheera Denprapa I expect the unexpected at Sky Ice Sweet & Savory. It starts on the sidewalk as I am greeted by a window that boasts “Sweet & Savory – Northern Thai Home Cooking – Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts” in an eclectic mix of fonts.
Inside, the bright and airy restaurant feels like Jonathan and Sutheera’s home–from the framed portrait of their daughter, a wooden “Brooklyn” plaque, and a little red tricycle complete with charming “delivery” sign perched atop the beverage cabinet.
Their personalities are also reflected in the menu. Half sweet: homemade ice creams and sorbets in flavors I have never heard of before; half savory: Northern Thai Khao Soi curry, Chicken Larb and an inventive “No-Carb” Pad Thai served with papaya noodles.
How did an ice cream shop mash-up with a Thai restaurant? It all started with Sutheera’s love of ice cream. As she was sipping Thai Iced Tea with a friend, she thought it would make an intriguing ice cream flavor. Rather than leave it at that, Sutheera spent the next six months making it happen and perfecting the recipe. At first Jonathan and Sutheera supplied their Thai Iced Tea ice cream to Thai restaurants. Then they developed more varieties, specializing in Southeast Asian ingredients such as durian and mangosteen to reflect Sutheera’s heritage.
Overflowing with so many flavor ideas, they opened up their own ice cream shop. Light savory snacks and soups were offered to warm up their customers in the winter. People kept returning for the snacks as much as they did for the ice cream so dish by dish, the savory snacks turned into a full menu.
I am intrigued as I scan the menu: Non-fried Fried Rice, Slow Cooked Beef Penang and Grilled Mahi Mahi in Banana Leaf. Making a mental note to return and try those dishes, my attention is drawn away by Jonathan’s warm greeting. I am not familiar with Northern Thai cuisine and so jumped at his offer to teach me Chicken Larb, a salad of chopped spicy chicken and toasted rice often served in Northern Thai homes. Larb originated in Laos, which heavily influenced the northern regions of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.
We head over to the kitchen and walk through the ingredients: red onion, sugar, scallions, toasted rice powder (toast raw sticky rice grains in a dry pan then grind them in a food processor), ground small hot dried red chilis, chicken breast, fish sauce, and lime juice.
Mince the chicken with a cleaver, then quickly cook in boiling water and strain.
Combine the cooked chicken, onions, scallions, sugar, ground chili, toasted rice, fish sauce and lime juice. Mix well and serve with fresh raw vegetables and sticky rice.
The resulting cold salad is salty and savory from the fish sauce and bright and refreshing from the lime juice. The toasted rice is sweet, earthy and nutty while the sugar and chilis add a balanced contrast of sweet and spicy. The Chicken Larb is light enough to be a side dish, yet the crunch of the raw vegetables makes it satisfying enough as a main course.
Out of curiosity, I also order a Khao Soi. I have been exploring the different curries of the world for an upcoming series, from Mumbai to Japan with a stop over at the Maldives and had never tried this Northern Thai curry. Khao Soi is a thin curry from Chiang Mai (influenced by Burma to the west), somewhere between a sauce and a soup. Served with flat egg noodles, pickled mustard and raw onions, the description “fresh” comes to mind as I slurp up my first spoonful. How can a curry be fresh and not heavy? I surmise that it is a combination of the thin sauce, fresh vegetables and slight sourness of the pickled mustard. The forward flavor is sweet, finishing off with a hit of spicy heat tickling the back of my throat.
I mention the upcoming curry series and refer to this as “field research” (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it). Jonathan recommends Maesri curry paste and tells me that many Thai households use this brand. Maesri can also be used to make vegan Thai curry because it does not contain fish or shrimp paste. I wonder what else I can use the curry paste for…maybe a curry and ice cream mash-up?
Either way, I am coming back to Sky Ice Sweet & Savory. At first I thought the sweet and savory was an odd theme, but now I get it. With savory dishes that taste this good, no wonder the ice cream shop expanded into a full Northern Thai restaurant.
Up next: make room for dessert and Sky Ice Homemade Ice Cream.
SkyIce Sweet & Savory
63 Fifth Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
1 cup boneless skinless chicken breast, minced
2 ounces lime juice
1 1/2 ounce fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground chili
3 teaspoons ground toasted rice powder (toast raw sticky rice grains in a dry pan then grind them in a food processor)
2 teaspoons scallions, sliced
2 teaspoons red onion, diced
3 lettuce leaves
1/3 cucumber, sliced
6 raw string beans, halved
1/4 cup shredded carrots
whole dried chilis and sprig of mint for garnish
Place chicken in a small heat-proof strainer. Place strainer in boiling water and boil chicken for 1 – 2 minutes until no longer pink. Remove the strainer from the boiling water and drain the chicken.
Transfer chicken to a large bowl. Add lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, ground chili, rice powder, scallions and red onion. Mix well to combine.
Place chicken mixture on top of the lettuce leaves and top with the cucumber, string beans, shredded carrots, whole chilies and mint. Serve with steamed glutinous sticky rice.