I first met Bank Atcharawan at Lotus of Siam, when he served me the latest Riesling he had acquired for that restaurant’s impressive list. With his distinctive eyewear and casual demeanor, he looked almost as professorial then as he does now.
Atcharawan came to the U.S. from his native Thailand when he was 11 and spent three years in Hollywood, Calif., before settling in Las Vegas. Eventually, he attended UNLV, and became completely versed in Western culture, while remaining true to his native roots. He was an integral part of the Lotus team, but was biding his time. Soon, he’d realize a lifelong ambition: to have his own restaurant.
Lotus of Siam taught Atcharawan the ropes, and recently, he broke away to open his newest venture, Chada Thai & Wine, the hip small-plates Thai joint he runs as wine director and partner with his brother, Bon. The food at Chada Thai is somewhat of a surprise; many dishes are from southern Thailand, in marked contrast to the northern Thai cooking he served customers at Lotus of Siam.
Here is a recipe from Atcharawan’s menu that is easy, fun to prepare and delicious, sure to impress company if you’re making dinner, and great for a casual midafternoon snack as well. I don’t always cook the recipes I report, but this one was easy, so my wife and I prepared it at home, and it turned out swimmingly.
Tod Mun Goong (Thai shrimp cakes)
Yields 10 cakes
2 pounds fresh shrimp
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper
3 1/2 ounces lard
1 egg white
1 cup tapioca starch
Approximately ½ cup panko or unseasoned bread crumbs
Vegetable oil of your choice for deep-frying
Blend the shrimp, sesame oil, salt, soy sauce, white pepper and lard in a food processor until the mixture is a smooth paste. Remove the mixture, and knead in the egg white and tapioca starch by hand, forming little round cakes approximately ½-inch in thickness. Coat the cakes lightly with breadcrumbs and then deep-fry till they are a robust golden brown. The frying temperature should be at least 350 degrees. Drain on absorbent paper and serve with plum sauce such as Lee Kum Kee. (Note: All of these ingredients are available in any Chinese market, such as 168 or 99 Ranch, and in most American supermarkets.)
Any given lunchtime at Lotus of Siam, you were sure to find Bank Atcharawan holding court, tasting the latest offerings from wine reps hoping to see their labels among that restaurant’s august menu. This is not likely to change now that Atcharawan has his own place. With these fried shrimp cakes, he recommends the 2010 Hans Wirsching Scheurebe Iphöfer Kronsberg Kabinett Trocken. The highly aromatic scheurebe grape is a cross between riesling and a wild German vine. “This wine has very zippy acidity that tones down the richness of the pork fat in the shrimp cake,” he says. It also offers an exotic nose of red grapefruit, gardenia and black currant leaf, and a palate lively with lime, tangerine zest and rose petals. “The finish is light and clean to complement the light flavor of the dish.” $35 bottle at Chada Thai & Wine, $26 at Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits.