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Williamsburg Zen Yai Restaurant Rebrands and Opens as Tiger Prawn Following Pandemic Closure

The interior of the new Tiger Prawn eatery in Williamsburg (Courtesy of Tiger Prawn)

Feb. 10, 2022 By Allie Griffin

The Queens-based restaurateurs behind multiple popular Vietnamese and Thai eateries have opened a new spot in Williamsburg focused on serving fresh seafood from the two cuisines.

Bryan Chunton and Pei Wei opened Tiger Prawn in October at 208 Grand St. in the building that once housed their pho shop Zen Yai, which they opened just prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The new restaurant specializes in Vietnamese-style Cajun cooking with a large selection of its namesake prawn dishes as well as traditional Thai staples like pad thai and drunken noodle. The menu also features fresh oysters and unique options such as seafood hot pot and basil mussels.

Chunton and Wei seized the opportunity to reinvent their restaurant after Zen Yai closed for approximately 18 months during the pandemic. Zen Yai opened in Williamsburg following a massive blaze in 2018 in Sunnyside that prompted the move.

“We figured we’ll bring Zen Yai back to Sunnyside [its original location] and rebrand this restaurant and change the look and do a whole new thing,” Chunton said.

They decided to reopen the business with a fresh concept focused on Vietnamese Cajun seafood because one of Wei’s favorite foods is tiger prawns. She wanted to share the dish — cooked with bold spices and a Vietnamese twist.

“She loves tiger prawn,” Chunton said. “She’s crazy about it.”

Chunton also said that no other restaurants in the area serve authentic Vietnamese Cajun seafood, while general Vietnamese restaurants and pho shops have become more common in Williamsburg in recent years.

Tiger prawn Tom Yum hot pot (Courtesy of Tiger Prawn)

Tiger Prawn’s menu includes grilled tiger prawn cooked in a coconut curry sauce, tamarind prawn, baked prawn served with glass noodles and mushrooms and the fan-favorite chili pepper prawn.

The restaurant also serves fresh Blue Point oysters—the Thai way—with fresh chili sauce and fried shallots, rather than with traditional horseradish. Chunton said they are hoping to expand on Tiger Prawn’s oyster bar and offer a full raw bar.

For patrons who don’t eat seafood, Tiger Prawn also has a steak entree and various noodle and rice dishes.

The menu is not the only change in the rebrand. The interior space has been painted with a colorful mural featuring sea animals—and a 15-foot bright blue prawn sculpted by a local artist now hangs from the ceiling.

Tiger Prawn is open for both lunch and dinner and also offers pick-up and delivery options.

The seafood establishment is Chunton and Wei’s latest project. They also run Eat Gai, which is known for its Hainanese chicken rice, a popular Thai street food, out of Essex Market in Manhattan and a full storefront in Elmhurst that they opened in August.

The pair also plans to bring back Zen Yai to Sunnyside in the coming weeks. Chunton and Wei will open a take-out and delivery-only operation inside Sunnyside Eats, a ghost kitchen facility, located at 40-05 Skillman Ave.

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