Here’s the Low Down on
Chao Thai and Chao Thai Too!
On Whitney Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens, the restaurant Chao Thai’s name is painted in a playful font and splashed across an orange awning, promising a cheery respite from the gray familiarity of its matured surroundings. Chao Thai’s cozy interior is the same burst of citrus – refreshing as the homemade Thai iced tea and palm juice served in the soon- to-be sweltering summer heat.
Elaborate teakwood carvings hang on the walls, broadly hinting at the depth and thoughtfulness that go into the preparation of each dish on its extensive menu. With 47 kinds of appetizers and 12 types of soups to tempt your taste buds – because calamari may be fried, grilled or enjoyed in a salad, and a salad may be had with sweet pork sausage, pork skin, Num Tok pork or with seafood and mango, one can hardly expect less than 37 kinds of stir-fried entrées, not including the curries, rice, noodle and side dishes.
Then, when your discerning palate has savored through the entire list, pop across the street to Chao Thai Too on your next visit – to lounge in a more sophisticated ambience, lean on shiny tables that match its sleek, black exterior, and continue your gastronomic experience with additional items unique to Chao Thai Too, such as the Pad Morning Glory (stir-fried morning glory with oyster sauce), the Kai Khua (stir- fried flat noodle with chicken, squids, scallion and ground peanut), and with the added delight of a Singha beer or glass of house red to wash down the chow.
Why such specificity and variety? Ake, general manager of Chao Thai and Chao Thai Too, beams with obvious pride, ‘Chao Thai features flavors from Northern Thailand – these tend to be more spicy, whereas Chao Thai Too offers more dishes from Central Thailand. Our cooks did not want to reduce the number of items, because Thai cuisine is so varied and diverse.’
Ake goes on to explain that Thai cuisine owes its richness and complexity to Thailand’s choice geographical position, which saw it thrive as a hub for trade and exchange as early as the 14th century when most of what is Thailand today was known as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. In fact, green curry – one of the most popular modern Thai dishes, made
of coconut milk and green chilies, traces its beginnings from this period.
Thai cuisine evolved as it incorporated influences and new ingredients brought in by traders from various lands. For instance, the Spanish traders first introduced papayas to Thailand some centuries ago, – today, papaya is a commonplace and essential ingredient in many Thai dishes.
Despite the many sources that had impacted the Thai food culture, Chao Thai was first established in 1997, followed by Chao Thai Too some two years ago, with the intention to serve Thai food undiluted and unchanged to suit foreign tastes, soused with the ironic hope to season foreign appetites into appreciation of authentic Thai food instead. Ann, assistant manager of Chao Thai Too, keenly points out that both restaurants go to great lengths to obtain special ingredients necessary to maintain the authenticity of each dish.
Judging from the steadily expanding following of loyal patrons, this mission is gaining momentum. One can safely assume Chao Thai and Chao Thai Too will shape future appetites with a taste for authentic Thai cuisine one bite at a time.