The Dish | A Happy Place
Discovering Thai DJing
Last August, the culmination of a long held dream, Chef Suda Ounin and Jeerasak Boonlert opened their restaurant and bakery. Housed in a cottage the color of strawberry buttercream frosting and fronted by a lush garden, Thai DJing beckons merrily from Fifth Street in Old Gretna. Guests are greeted with irresistible warmth by Denise and Manuel Ponce, neighbors from down the block who work the front of the house in the 70-seat restaurant.
Pale walls and natural wood tables set the backdrop for gorgeous cuisine that is vibrant on the palate, often with fresh herbs from the chef’s garden out back. The space is awash in natural light by day; shimmering fixtures illuminate at night. The wooden bar top is poured over with turquoise-hued resin, metallic flecks in which gleam, giving the effect of a sinuous, moving stream. Fresh flowers spill from golden vases and the walls are adorned with awards Ounin garnered in culinary competitions.
Classically trained in traditional Thai cuisine, Ounin’s job with Marriot hotels transferred her from the island of Similan to downtown New Orleans in 2010. With a dazzling smile and seemingly boundless energy, Ounin met Boonlert, a Buddhist monk, at Chua Bo De temple on the West Bank, at which he had been serving as a missionary since 2008. The couple married in 2012 after he returned to secular life upon completing his practice with the temple. Both accomplished cooks, in 2013, they started selling traditional Thai dishes from slow cookers on a folding table at the Gretna Farmers Market. In 2015, they graduated to a food truck that took them to additional area markets and events.
The menu at Thai DJing changes regularly to accommodate specials like whole fried fish served with pineapple and peppers, and spicy Thai scallops. Menu standards include Ounin’s outstanding soups (potato curry, Tom Ka and green curry), classics like savory chicken wings stuffed with ground pork and vegetables, glass noodles and herbs; pad Thai and Chiang Mai noodles; several varieties of curry offered with choice of protein; as well as their signature, airy chicken curry puffs and fragrant Ginger Salmon.
Also skilled in pastry arts, Ounin keeps her mind-blowing sticky rice with mango and coconut ice cream – get all the elements on your spoon for the perfect bite – on the everyday menu. A changing selection of painstakingly crafted showstoppers is on display in the pastry case in the bar. The day may bring Green Tea Crepe Cake, Opera Cake, Coconut Cheesecake with Fresh Mango Coulis, Coconut Cream Cake, Thai Tea Coffee Cake and opulent cupcakes.
Lunch specials (Tuesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m.–2 p.m.) include a salad of fresh greens with a sensational ginger-curry vinaigrette, choice of soup and a roti-based slider with a choice of protein or an appetizer. Happy hour is Mondays- Fridays from 5-6:30 p.m. and features bargain prices on craft cocktails, beer and wine, as well as appetizers and soups.
With his reputation as a kitchen wizard well established and continuing to ascend, in 2009 Chef Bob Iacovone left Cuvee, one of New Orleans’ hottest restaurants, to be a stay-at-home dad. In November of 2019, Iacovone and his wife, Joanna, opened Iacovone Kitchen. It was ahead of its time, offering creative, high quality renditions of the full meals, soups, salads and sauces we’ve all come to rely on in the past year on a grab-and-go basis. The chef also caters special events and will soon return to hosting intimate five-course pairing dinners. A recent luncheon for two was cooked to order by the affable chef, who lost none of his star power during his hiatus from the scene. A potpie of crawfish, asparagus and Brie was held together not with a roux or cream sauce but, rather, with a lively purée of parsnips. An elegant, pressed panini sandwich of prosciutto and molten Brie was bright and flavorful with marinated fig and basil. Check the website for daily menus.
Iacovone Kitchen, 5033 Freret St., 504-533-9742, IacovoneKitchen.com
Thai DJing, 93 Fifth St., Gretna, 504-766-0681, ThaiDJing.com