Vegetarian (and Vegan) Delights of NYC: Mock Duck at Sumran Thai in Astoria, Queens

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Sumran Thai makes extensive use of mock duck, as in the above "sweet chili paste" preparation.

I was bummed to hear recently that my favorite Astorian Thai, Poodam, had closed down. I didn't totally give up hope, though, since Poodam had closed before -- once for several months -- only to reopen again.

Poodam mounted a far-flung Thai menu that included many Isaan specialties, including a wonderful, turmeric-laced fish mousse that arrived swaddled in a banana leaf. As a carload of friends and I pulled up in front of the place (located right on Broadway a few blocks east of the N station), we realized that Poodam, like the Confederate South, was not going to rise again.

In its place was Sumran Thai, in a premises basically unchanged, save for bouquets of bobbing pink and red balloons that had been distributed around the place for a party being held in the back room.

Fortunately, the food was excellent, though somewhat restrained since the previous occupant. There's no pork on the menu now, and the place eschews fish sauce in all the recipes I tried, which is a boon to vegetarians and vegans, who must tread warily in most Thai restaurants. (Though most places can leave it out of a recipe, on request.) Another boon to vegans is the complete absence of milk and other dairy products. In addition, Sumran Thai will make the appropriate dishes fantastically spicy if you so request, and liberally uses lime leaves and other pungent herbs.

The availability of mock duck in many recipes adds a nice note to a catalog of vegetarian options for nearly every dish, a list that includes tofu, extra vegetables, or plain gluten. The mock-duck chunks are dense and gnarly and striated, and Scooter was moved to exclaim, "Hey, this tastes like duck." With the exception of two fish dishes (our table included a vegetarian, a quasi-vegetarian, a piscatarian, and an omnivore), everything we ate was vegan, and eminently satisfying. 44-19 Broadway, Astoria, Queens, 718-278-3010

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There are no flecks of dried shrimp in the luscious green papaya salad, nor fish sauce in the dressing, though it is spicy as hell if you want it to be.

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