Bank Atcharawan is thoroughly bi-cultural. He emigrated from Thailand while still a teenager, and worked for many years as the de facto Wine Director and Dining Room Manager at the seminal Lotus of Siam, which many call our best Thai restaurant.
Now Bank, along with his brother, Bon, is about to open a breakthrough Thai restaurant, Chada Thai and Wine. Bank invited me in for a pre-opening tasting, and everything that I tried was well prepared, interesting and original. This is no cloned menu Thai eatery. If you’re looking for sugary pad Thai, pre-made curries or bland satays, look elsewhere.
While at Lotus, Bank became well versed on the subject of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Gruner Veltliner, white wine varietals from Germany and Austria that marry smartly with Thai dishes, particularly the incendiary ones. There will be lots of those wines on a list that will also have Pinot Noir and other choices. Bank is banking on the idea that his clientele will match these wines with the small plates he serves. When word gets around that this food is amazing, I’m predicting Chada Thai will be a smash hit.
The décor is smart, sort of a form follows function take on a Japanese izakaya; leather banquettes, black table tops, gray walls, a rear wall mounted wine rack. The restaurant will seat approximately 45. It looks as if he’s taken a page from the Raku playbook. This may be the first Thai tapas place in the city, though Bank wouldn’t call it one.
So what’s on the table? One dish that completely impressed me was something I’ve not had before, a finger food called mia ag, peanuts, coconut and spices in a lettuce leaf. I’d come back anytime for the meltingly soft red braised pork belly, or the pale yellow curry with crab, served with twirled strands of rice noodles, in three neat little piles.
Bank brought many dishes out for me to taste, including a wonderfully spicy duck soup, a plate of artfully arranged vegetables for dipping, and two types of dip based on shrimp paste, one mild and funky, the other grainy and fearsomely hot. This dish might confuse a novice Thai diner. Think of it as Thai graduate school, where, say, egg rolls are 101.
Chada Thai isn’t using pre-made mixes; curries, for instance, are made from scratch and taste it. They aren’t insulting the American palate by drowning everything with sugar and salt, either. Condiments such as Thai basil, lemon grass and nam pla are used with skill, and their flavors infuse many of the dishes here.
A whole roasted stuffed fish had lemon grass and Thai basil in the cavity, for example, and its flesh was moist, sweet and fall off the bone tender.
At this writing, Bank was waiting on final approval for his Beer and Wine license. I’d go under BYOB circumstances, though, even if his license is still pending on his opening date, Friday, Oct. 13th. It’s going to be a full house when word gets out.
Chada Thai is located at 3400 S. Jones Blvd. Tentative hours are daily, 6 p.m.-3 a.m.
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