La Thai’s Style
Asian with a Touch of Local
Nit Noi menu: Som Tam, Laap Gai, Thai BBQ Shrimp, Nua Dad Diew
The sharp anise-like notes of basil and the aromatic hook of cilantro. A squeeze of lime and the umami of Golden Mountain sauce, a uniquely Thai variant of soy. Add the firepower of raw chilis and the crunch of peanuts and you have a tool kit for building some serious flavor combinations. Now to this potent mix toss in the bounty of Louisiana seafood and some Cajun riffs on the same and you can begin to put together a menu like the one you’ll find at La Thai.
This Prytania Street stalwart effortlessly melds Thai cuisine with a smattering of Cajun influence, serving it up in a sleekly contemporary dining room that is equal part bar and lounge with event space to boot. Executive Chef Diana Chauvin Gallé owns the restaurant along with her husband Jay Gallé. Diana’s family has a long history in the restaurant business here in New Orleans, having owned a string of Thai restaurants dating back to the 1970s. “My father is Cajun French and my mother is Thai,” she said. “So we’ve got two very different cultural backgrounds but also some complementary aspects when it comes to spices and cuisine.”
Thai aficionados or those in search of authenticity are best directed to her Nit Noi menu, a collection of sharable plates featuring Northern Thai and Laotian influences. “In Thailand the northern part is more of a country style of cooking. It is pastes, dips, sticky rice – lots of finger foods where you use your hands,” Chauvin says. Every dish is worth exploring, but standouts include the eminently snackable Nua Dad Diew, strips of beef jerky you dip into a fiery roasted chili sauce alongside a bowl of sticky rice. The Laap Gai is a cold chopped chicken salad punctuated with lime, chili, mint and cilantro that you wrap into packets with crisp lettuce leaves. The Thai BBQ Shrimp is served over a remarkable red curry sauce, whose heat is mellowed with lemongrass and kaffir lime. The accompanying roti bread is a perfect foil for sopping up the leftovers. And the hottest dish was the arguably the most innocuous – the Som Tam, a chilled shredded papaya salad.
The main menu, grounded in the cuisine of central Thailand, offers an array of specials, noodles and curry dishes. The expected Phat Thai is there, with its crushed peanuts and sweetly sour punch of tamarind. The Drunken Noodles are also a popular choice. Dishes that bring in more of the aforementioned Cajun influence include the Pecan-Crusted Gulf Fish, served over a bed of wilted spinach and brown rice with a garlic-butter sauce punched up with lemon and basil. “Butter is not a part of Thai cuisine,” Gallé said, “but we use it here.”
La Thai has carved out a niche as a local neighborhood spot and helps to round out a remarkably broad array of restaurants within this short strip of Uptown real estate. On weekend nights the bar gets lively, whereas during the day regulars pop in for the array of lunch specials. Going forward Gallé is toying with the idea of expanding the Nit Noi menu. “That menu really inspires me,” she said, “and I’ve got some fun things coming onto it in the future.”
West Bank Thai
Banana Blossom has long been a local Thai favorite, and the restaurant expanded into a larger space earlier this year in Old Gretna. While the cuisine is predominately Thai, Banana Blossom rolls other influences into its menu. Recommended dishes include another take on BBQ Shrimp and Spicy Beef Salad.
MEET THE CHEF
Diana Chauvin Galle grew up in the restaurant business. “I was a restaurant baby – as soon as I could pick up a spoon they put me to work,” she says. “My family owned Mai Tai which was the first authentic Thai restaurant in the city.” Growing up she mostly worked in front-of-house capacities as her family owned a series of restaurants including Bangkok Cuisine and another La Thai on Metairie Road. But after some years spent in Los Angeles taking in the restaurant scene and working there she returned home inspired to tackle the expanded roles of being both an owner and a chef. “When I came back I opened Sweet Ginger with my mom and immersed myself in cooking. I wanted to learn everything. Later on in 2008 we opened this La Thai on Prytania.” Eleven years later her restaurant still going strong.
La Thai, 4938 Prytania St., Uptown; 899-8886; Lunch: Thursday & Friday, Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday. LaThaiUptown.com.