Table Talk: Market Fresh
Uptown Thai Debut
Opening a new restaurant is never easy. Opening during a pandemic, well… Yet, throughout this crisis we’ve seen several startups take root across the pockmarked landscape of the New Orleans culinary scene. Among these is Cho Thai, a Thai restaurant that was well in the works before anyone had even heard about COVID-19. A partnership between chef Jimmy Cho (owner of Banana Blossom on the Westbank) and BRG Hospitality, Cho Thai provides a new platform for chef Cho to plate up and expand upon favorites from this native Thailand.
The menu at Cho Thai shares a lot of DNA with Banana Blossom. Alongside dishes like his “Lamb Panang” and spicy “Thai BBQ Crab Claws,” diners here will find individualistic choices like Roti bread served alongside a spicy red curry dipping sauce, which makes for a particularly comforting pairing. “Roti is popular in the south of Thailand which is close to Malaysia,” Chef Cho said. “So it shares a lot of Malaysian influence.” Roti is versatile as well. A sweet version with Nutella appears on the dessert menu.
Cho Thai’s menu is set apart from Banana Blossom with a unique emphasis on street foods found in the festive Night Markets of his native Sakon Nakhon in northeast Thailand. A good way to start here is with the Cho Thai sampler. Featuring an array of crunchy papaya salad, spicy fried chicken and chewy sticky rice, along with the aforementioned roti, this combo will present an array of unique flavors and textures. “The Night Market stuff is what I ate growing up,” Chef Cho said. “Papaya salad is one of the Thailand’s iconic dishes.” Cho’s take features a dressing made with fish sauce and crab paste and includes green beans, Thai chili and peanuts along with fresh herbs. The addictive fried chicken is boneless and topped with crispy shallots, cilantro and a sour/spicy tamarind-chili sauce.
For main courses, popular options include the “Chang Mai Noodle,” a rich dish of braised beef short rib and egg noodles smothered in a yellow curry sauce with pickled mustard and fresh cilantro. The “Ka Pao Gai” features ground chicken with Thai chili, green bean and a spicy, garlicy fish sauce topped with a fried egg. “The pao gia is a classic Thai dish,” Cho said. “I want to say it is kind of like hamburger as people there like it so much; it is everyday comfort food for Thai people.” Expectant and crowd-pleasing options like “Shrimp Pad Thai” and “Drunken Noodles” are found here as well. The preparation and ingredients are a step up from what you might find elsewhere. Pops of sliced chili and sprigs of fresh basil and cilantro accentuate many dishes, shaping a complex flavor profile that leans on well-sourced ingredients and local produce.
Food from Cho Thai – the noodle dishes in particular — travels well for those seeking takeout. The spacious dining room at press time was comfortably configured for socially distanced dining. When the world returns to normal, Cho Thai will benefit from its compelling menu and excellent location along Magazine Street. Thai food has been somewhat underrepresented in New Orleans. Now we have a new option from a veteran chef.
Cho Thai, 3218 Magazine St., Uptown, 381-4264, Chothairestaurant.com.
ABOUT THE CHEF
Chef and Owner Jimmy Cho came to New Orleans over 20 years ago. His Westbank restaurant Banana Blossom has long been a favorite of Thai aficionados over the years. For Cho Thai, Chef Cho partnered with BRG Hospitality to bring the flavors of his native Sakon Nakhon to Uptown. While the surroundings are upscale, the dining is casual and the food is close to his heart, leaning heavily on the street food he grew up with overseas.