Opened this week in the East Village, MayRee restaurant and bar highlights Southern Thai food from Chef/owner Orawan Sawangphol and cocktails from industry veteran Sek Saraboon (formerly of The Met Bar in Bangkok and The Dominick Hotel in Soho, NYC).
Born and raised in Phang Nga, a small province in southern Thailand (about an hour from Phuket), Sawangphol started working in her family’s restaurant at age 13, learning about techniques and spices as well as recipes from her great grandmother, eventually becoming the restaurant’s chef. After studying hospitality, she moved to the U.S. and worked in California, Ohio and Illinois before moving to NYC to open MayRee, her own restaurant, showcasing the Southern Thai dishes she grew up with.
Sawangphol uses Thai herbs and ingredients like garcinia cambogia (a tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia aka Malabar tamarind), along with turmeric, coconut, chilies, and more. Menu highlights include Southern Thai Kua Kling curry with pork, Thai chilies, kaffir lime leaf, jasmin rice and fried egg; Jor Rang, coconut shrimp soup with turmeric, lemongrass, shrimp paste and peppers; Roti Nam Keang, pan fried roti with Massaman curry (coconut milk, peanuts, potatoes, fried shallots); as well as other Thai dishes like Yum Hua Plee, a banana blossom salad with shrimp, ground pork, coconut milk, fish sauce and roasted chili paste; Bacon Hor Nam, deep fried pickled pork wrapped with bacon with sweet chili sauce; Kaeng Phed Ped, a roast duck curry with pineapple, tomato, chili paste and coconut milk; and Pla Loui Suan deep fried whole fish with fresh herb salad, roasted peanuts, green mango, cilantro and chili peppers.
The restaurant’s name comes from a Thai folklore story called the Twelve Sisters – MayRee is one of the sisters. Despite the misfortunes that befall her in the story, she still manages to keep a cheerful disposition and, as a result in Thai culture, she symbolizes celebration and social gathering. Cocktails by Sek Saraboon are named for the various sisters in the Twelve Sisters story and feature Thai spirits like Mekhong Rum and Phraya Gold Rum, along with Thai herbs. Highlights include the Prysob with Mekhong rum, mango juice, passion fruit purée, honey, palm sugar syrup and lime; Morakot, lemongrass-infused vodka, sake, fresh galangal, coconut milk, kaffir lime; Malee with butterfly pea infused tequila, Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, cilantro, ginger, lemongrass, agave and lime; tropical Paga with coconut rum, banana liqueur, melon liqueur, pineapple juice and lime; and Saowarat, whisky, green tea syrup, honey, pineapple juice and lemon. They will also offer the traditional infused Ya Dong shots, which are believed to be aphrodisiac and energy boosters.
MayRee’s décor evokes Thailand’s past and folklore with the ceiling depicting a woman wearing traditional Thai dress and a Chada (headdress shaped like a crown), as well as stars decorated with gold leaf. Three individual Chada pieces (representing Southeast Asian royalty) are displayed in cases behind the bar, as are jars of infusions used in the cocktails. The exposed brick walls feature vintage mirrors with gold frames and other gold accents – gold is important in Thai culture and Sek’s cocktails also feature gold leaf for that reason. The intimate 30-seat dining room includes 8 seats at the bar with additional 14 seats outdoors.
MayRee is located at 58 East 1st Street in the East Village. The restaurant will serve daily lunch (12-4pm) and dinner (5-11:30pm) with weekend brunch on Saturday and Sunday coming soon.