Where to Go For
Dinner and a Show
It may seem odd to start a review by talking about a restaurant’s bathrooms. But at Peep, they provide moments of hilarity worthy of a Feydeau hotel-bedroom farce. Take a seat on the banquette in the center of Peep’s long, mirrored dining room and enjoy the show.
Across from you is a large gold Buddha meditating inside a glass case, blissfully unaware of the ghostly images projected from behind the mirrors on either side of him. Tonight it’s Shelley Winters in her bathrobe berating James Mason, who looks as though he’s about to kill her-not exactly the first step on the path to Nirvana. Eventually, the truth dawns: You are looking at a two-way mirror and there are TV’s behind it.
But then a door in the mirrored wall suddenly flies open and the head of a young woman pops out. “Help!” she screams. “Can everybody see me?”
She can see us, but we can’t see her, of course. But the glow of the TV’s, which hang inside the bathroom above the sinks and are showing videos of Lolita , does penetrate the mirror, creating the eerie images. If you want to have a bit of fun, whenever anyone goes into the bathroom at Peep, be sure to wave at them once they’ve closed the door and had time to sit down. Not for nothing do the designers of Peep call it “a unique voyeuristic dining creation.”
Peep, designed by a group called the Apartment, is sexy, stylish and amusing. It has its share of saketinis and berry Cosmos, kiwi margaritas and aged single-malt whiskies for the bar scene, but it’s more than that. The kitchen here turns out Thai food that is not only good, but extremely inexpensive. Where else can you get a two-course Thai lunch in the heart of Soho for just $8? That’s what lured me in in the first place.
I had passed Peep many times while walking across Prince Street, but thought it was just another chic, trendy bar. On a recent afternoon, my son and I paused to look at the menu, which is displayed on the wall next to the restaurant’s curious stainless-steel gates. Steamed dumplings and char-grilled chicken. Sate skewers and crispy calamari. Eight bucks. We went right in.
At the entrance is a long bar that’s back-lit with pink neon and set with bar stools whose seats are made from pink plastic tubing. Chrome chandeliers hang in a long line down the mirrored ceiling, their light reflected on the mirrored walls and the floor. There’s an open kitchen at the back of the restaurant, which has polished oak tables lined up along a velvet banquette. The clientele is predictably young and hip, as is the friendly wait staff, who wear gray, loosely knit sweatshirts decorated with orange stripes.
Peep’s food is pretty much standard Thai, along with some fusion dishes thrown in, like the Caesar salad which comes with smoked tofu and a miso ginger dressing that gives it a pleasant nutty taste, or the pappardelle that’s topped with a beef and lemongrass ragu. Everything is perfectly spiced, accessible and elegantly presented, with lots of small plates to choose from in addition to larger plates, such as curries and noodle dishes.
Our lunch was delicious. We had crisp shrimp semolina fritters that we dipped into a hot vinegared chili oil, and steamed dumplings that came with a tomato vinaigrette. From there, we moved on to tender slabs of marinated, char-grilled chicken seasoned with Thai spices and served with a black sesame chili sauce. Pad thai-noodles with chicken, shrimp, peanut and egg-was excellent, but there was so much of it that we took half of it home to eat later. And the price was indeed $8 per person.
Also among the small plates are sate skewers made with chicken or beef with the traditional peanut dip and cucumber relish. Calamari arrives in a cocktail glass, spilling generously over onto the plate, and is served with an avocado and green onion emulsion and tomato chutney; it’s perfect bar food-just the dish for that second kiwi margarita. An elegant, broad-rimmed white bowl arrives filled with juicy shrimp dumplings. Tamarind-glazed shrimp are large and juicy, with taro chips and a hot chili-tamarind vinaigrette. The duck and sautéed eggplant is one of my favorites, with a tomato and purple onion salad, and a vigorous chili paste and lemon oil vinaigrette.
Face-towel noodles, so called because they are wide, flat and spongy, are superb, tossed in a spicy mix of shrimp, squid and chicken with egg, tomato paste, chili and basil. Peanut-crusted salmon sits on a bed of vegetables under a creamy curried coconut-basil sauce and comes with two large wedges of sesame-sprinkled rice. The rice is perfectly cooked, as is the salmon, which is nicely rare in the middle. Our waiter’s favorite, “Deconstructed” Hung Lea Blackened strip loin with braised sweet peas, is a bargain at $12. The meat is cut in thick, beefy slices, with braised sweet peas and a tamarind, ginger and horseradish sauce.
Desserts are over the top. They include a strawberry shortcake tower with strawberry chardonnay sorbet that tastes as though it’s made from pure berries. Strudels of banana and candied carrots come with a rich chocolate ice cream “terrine,” and crispy apple fritters are served with apple cider soup, vanilla ice cream and apple chips.
During our lunch, my son and I had been seated near the front of the restaurant, which was open to the street, and we had yet to find out about the bathrooms. As we were paying the bill and collecting our doggy bag, a woman who had been to the restroom returned to her seat at the adjacent table. “I can’t do it,” she said to her friend. “I just can’t pee in that bathroom!”
We left the restaurant somewhat bemused.