My mother and I had such a lovely time last night. My hubby was busy with his many business meetings in the city and so my mother and I were left to our own devices. When I was younger; my parents, my sister and myself were introduced to a fantastic Thai restaurant called Jaiya in Elmhurst Queens by a good family friend. We discovered Siam spring rolls, a little different from the Vietnamese spring rolls that we adored, but the difference didn’t diminish how much we enjoyed them. Another dish that became an instant favorite was called Naked Shrimp; shrimp grilled and served as a refreshing salad served with a piquant citrus dressing, but the ultimate dish that enthralled us was blue crabs with Jaiya’s special sauce. We started this love affair with Jaiya in the late 1970’s and I think that we actually took its existence for granted because when we found our beloved Jaiya closed back in 2003, right around the time we lost my father, we couldn’t believe it. We were so sad during that time, having Jaiya no longer around seemed like an added blow to our devastating loss, my father adored the crabs with special sauce even though he was frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t quite figure out how to replicate it.
Jaiya had moved out to Long Island, however we soon found out that they had a restaurant in downtown Manhattan. At first we were excited, but after quite a few tries, we were disappointed by the difference in quality from the old restaurant. My mother and I had resigned ourselves to never eating those delectable crabs ever again. Those were not happy thoughts, I assure you.
So when my mother mentioned that Jaiya had opened a new location on the upper Eastside we were a little skeptical after having been so disappointed by the other location. We were nervous about being let down once again. So before leaping into another pit of dashed culinary hopes, my mother asked me to research and lo and behold, Jaiya has a wonderful and appetizing website. We perused their menu and found that they in fact offered the same appetizers as the old Jaiya and (Bonus!) crabs with special sauce. My mother was a little skeptical because instead of offering the eastern blue crab, we saw that it was the Dungeness crab, native to the Northwest. So to assuage her worries I researched the difference between both crabs and we both learned something. The blue crab is sweeter and smaller, but the dungeness holds up well to the least amount of handling since their delicate flavor is what you want to appreciate, however they do lend themselves exceptionally well to the introduction of sauces.
So all of this research settled it, we were off on a mission to see if we could recapture our culinary memories at the newest Jaiya location. We got there at 6:30 and were immediately seated. The decor was nice and the service very professional, courteous and swift. My mother ordered Larb and I ordered Dancing Shrimp as appetizers and we were both really happy with our choices. I have made Larb for my mother before and so has my sister, I introduced them to the dish and Jaiya’s version, while a little different than mine, was very well executed, my mother finished it all. My Dancing Shrimp was excellent, this dish was different from the Naked Shrimp in that it was served “raw” the shrimp had been cooked by the citrus dressing, it was delicate, full of intense flavors. Yummy!
And then they came, our crabs with special sauce, and we were not disappointed. At one point my mother said that she was grateful for the very dim lighting because we were making pigs of ourselves. The crabs are served in the sauce, broken up and there is no other way to eat them but with your fingers and sucking all of the sweet meat out of the broken leg pieces and sucking the sauce off of the shell. Basically it is a sucking frenzy but I didn’t care, it was unbelievably delicious and brought me back to those wonderful memories of us eating together in Elmhurst Queens all those years ago.