Could that be Florence & The Machine playing in the background here at Chada Thai & Wine, the new small-plates Thai restaurant in the Jones Boulevard mall already home to HK Star, China MaMa and Asian BBQ & Noodle? Yes. That’s just the first sign that this isn’t your typical Thai restaurant.
Chada Thai & Wine is a narrow, minimalist space with gray walls, black leather banquettes and a chandelier draped in faux red rubies that would look more at home in a New Orleans cathouse. The back wall is one large wine rack, home to rieslings and gewürztraminers. That’s less of a surprise when we discover that the restaurant belongs to Bank Atcharawan, former sommelier/manager at Lotus of Siam. There, he helped compile a terrific cellar of German and Austrian wines that match spicy Thai specialties, and observed firsthand some of the best Thai cooking outside his native country.
But food here is a surprise, much of it street eats reinterpreted for a hip restaurant. Furthermore, some dishes on the menu, such as lo-ba (braised pig’s ear, tongue and heart served with cooling sliced cucumber and a complex red sauce) originated in Thailand’s southern region. If Lotus of Siam has its heart and soul in Thailand’s north, Chada’s are in the south, an area that has till now remained unexplored by Las Vegas Thai kitchens.
If pig parts sound extreme, there are many less intimidating dishes. Chada’s pad thai (pad thai hor kai on the menu) for instance, is mild and delicate, with a plain omelet wrapper, like you’d get at a street stall in Bangkok. The tod mun, those rubbery Thai fish cakes, are made with shrimp here—sweet, crisply fried and delicious.
Actually, cooking is excellent across the board. Nua dad diew, which many of us call Thai beef jerky, is cut into smaller, more manageable pieces here, making it less chewy. Eiw pung (three bite-size clumps of sticky rice crowned with dry shrimp, barbecue pork and crispy onion) reminds me of Chinese tamales. Panang curry, slow-cooked chunks of tender stewed beef in a rich coconut cream, works best spooned over white rice.
Bank, who runs the restaurant along with his big brother, Bon, has designed a menu of about 50 dishes, with only three of them (two sea bass and one lobster dish) costing more than $12.
Street-stall classics including larb (ground pork with rice powder, onion, mint, lime juice, fish sauce and chili powder) and som thum (raw green papaya salad) are both seven bucks apiece. One dish I can’t live without here is tom saap, a spicy pork rib soup. Something you may never have tasted before is miang pou, tiny lettuce wraps with an exotic, addictive filling of crabmeat, roasted coconut, peanut, lime and onion.
Naturally, many dishes here were designed to encourage drinking, although the spicier offerings, in my opinion, match better with a cooling beer than with the acid in most wines. But Bank has been clever. Some items here, such as the mouthful called peak kai nam peung (amazing grilled chicken wings with honey sauce) and nuang buoy (sea bass with a piquant plum sauce), go perfectly with an off-dry kabinett riesling. Atcharawan expects to receive his beer and wine license this week; till then bring your own.
I guess what I love most about this place is the aesthetic. The name Chada refers to the pointy Thai headdress you see on Buddhist statues, an elegant, regal touchstone of the ancient Thai culture. Bank is purely Thai, but came to the States as a teenager, which is why he is able to make a Thai restaurant so appealing to both Thais and Westerners.
Remember the name. You’ll be hearing it often.