Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thai with a French accent at Thai Kitchen

Tucked into the Streets of Chester mall on Route 206 is the restaurant Thai Kitchen. The eatery offers a pleasant blend of French and Thai cuisine that is unlike anything else in the area.

"There's a lot of people around here, but they don't realize there's a restaurant here in this mall," Oscar Chia, Thai Kitchen manager, says.

But for those in the know, Thai Kitchen is a quite a hit.

"There's no Thai restaurant in this location — Mendham, Chester, Long Valley," Chia says. "There's only one: us."

But to call this place merely a Thai restaurant — even though the decor is quite Thai oriented with pictures of elephants everywhere in this quant little building, even on the menu — would be doing it a great injustice. The French elements added to the cuisine make it so much more than just that.

"The boss tried something different," Chia says. "He used to have four restaurants that were just Thai food, so he wanted something that was a challenge, something different here."

The challenge was to integrate French and Thai food in a fusion that melds many of the cultures' greatest features.

"Many people order the lamb chops or the tuna,"' Chia says. "But the tuna is a little different. It comes with a creamy green curry sauce, so it's a mix of French and Thai."

Even the appetizers are different: "Our calamari is lightly breaded and deep fried," Chia says. "Then it's stir-fried again with garlic, onion, chili pepper and some sauce on it. It's a Thai recipe, and it's very good. Some find it a little bit spicy or a little bit salty, but there's no sauce, unless customers request it. We see what sauce they like, like a sweet chili sauce."

The dessert menu also has its own flair, Chia says. "For a French dessert, we have creme brulee. And we have mango mousse cake, which is sort of French and Thai. And for a Thai dessert, we have sweet sticky rice with fresh mango, and we have Thai coconut custard."

If you're looking for straight-up Thai without the French accent, Thai Kitchen has that as well.

"One of our most popular dishes is a noodle one, and it's called pad thai noodles," Chia says. "A lot of people order it. It's originally from Thailand, and it's Thai noodles sauteed with shrimp, turnips, bean sprout, carrots, and it comes with crunchy peanuts. And lemon," he adds, "Especially lemon."

Chia has broad experience in the food industry. Originally from Malaysia, and since he emigrated to the United States, he has worked at restaurant jobs from busboy, to cook and, finally, to manager. He says that people who have been to the other restaurants he's worked at are happy to see him here.

"Most people who went to my first restaurant in Bridgewater say: 'It's great you're here.' "

To get to this hidden treasure, head inside the small Streets of Chester shopping center, beyond the Coach store and the Gap building. Close to the rear of the mall, you'll find Thai Kitchen, near the Fast Frame store.

Chia hopes that those who already enjoy Thai Kitchen's food will talk the place up a bit so that more people find the restaurant.

"Some people hear about this place, but they can't find it," Chia says. "Hopefully, my customers will get people interested with word of mouth."

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