Every now and then it'll surprise you.
It's fitting that the name of chef Junnajet "Jett" Hurapan's new restaurant, Songkran Thai Kitchen, comes from the Sanskrit word sankranti, which means to move on or change. This restaurant is a change for Hurapan, Thai by birth but more accustomed in the past several years to cooking Cantonese cuisine at the former Gigi's Asian Bistro in The Galleria and "Euro Asian" fare at Blu in Sugar Land. With Songkran, Hurapan is moving on from pan-Asian cooking and returning to his native roots with upscale Thai food that blends his culinary school expertise with firsthand knowledge of the cuisine.
From the detail and consideration that go into every dish, it's clear that Songkran is where Hurapan wants to be, and he's cooking the food he wants to be cooking, the food he remembers from his childhood in Bangkok, only elevated to appeal to the Uptown Park crowd. A fried red snapper with chili and tamarind sauce isn't merely laid out on a platter and presented with utensils to delicately scrape the flaky meat off the tiny, fragile bones. It's presented upright, as if caught in the act of swimming, as if it somehow got confused and swam straight into a pan bubbling with hot oil. Instead of making diners work for each tender bite as they might do at a more traditional Thai restaurant, the fish has already been filleted. Bite-size pieces of crisp, skin-on snapper have been fried individually, then arranged like puzzle pieces inside the empty skeleton of the fish. You need only to dig a little to find each piece of meat marinating in a sweet sauce that tingles with Thai chiles and sour fish sauce.
This attention to the customer — a different diner than one you might find at hole-in-the-wall Vieng Thai on Long Point Road or old school Thai Gourmet in the Woodlake neighborhood — is what sets Songkran apart from the other Thai restaurants in Houston. Housed in the space that was formerly 1252 Tapas Bar, Songkran manages to present Thai food that's chic and upscale while maintaining a degree of authenticity in classic dishes like pad thai and tom yum.