San Diego Gay & Lesbian News has a regular dining-out column written by The Taste Buds, SDGLN's resident foodies. Today's review is by Sweet and Savory, two of our staffers who plan to keep their identity the best-kept secret in San Diego.
CHEDI THAI BISTRO
737 Pearl St., Suite 110, La Jolla, CA 92101
LA JOLLA – The sound of trickling water soothes the soul, the contemporary Zen-like décor comforts the eye, and the modern Thai cuisine pleases the palate.
Welcome to Chedi Thai Bistro in La Jolla, where Sutharin Pia Kampuntip, executive chef, restaurant designer and owner, has created an exquisite bistro that touches all the senses.
Chef Pia, who hails from northern Thailand near the Myanmar border, infuses regional influences into her dishes to create distinctive home-cooked meals. The eclectic menu includes traditional Thai favorites as well as healthy vegetarian creations.
Her husband, Tom Techathamnukool, who quit his day job at Qualcomm to work full time with his wife tending bar and serving food, said the restaurant shops at various produce and specialty markets daily to serve the freshest and highest quality ingredients. Meals are cooked in olive and canola oils.
The couple said their current demographic for customers is La Jolla residents, UCSD students and folks from Oceanside and North County. They are looking to reach SDGLN’s readership, a completely different demographic, as well as expand their clientele countywide.
We were seated next to the fountain, which is topped by three stone sculptures representing Chedi, a mound-like structure known throughout Thailand for containing Buddhist relics. The Chedi fountain dominates the room, providing a focal point in a beautifully decorated dining room and separating it from the six-seat bar.
Fresh flowers graced our table as we settled into our leather seats for a special night of dining at the Chef’s Table.
The first course
Chef Pia brought out Thai Crispy Calamari ($7) and Mixed Appetizer ($9), and Tom served us each a glass of Chardonnay, a Calcaire Russian River Valley 2008 ($10).
The calamari was to die for! The marinated squid and red onions were cooked in sweet roasted chili sauce and topped with crunchy fried Thai basil. Sweet could not get enough of it, calling it tender and spicy and one of the best appetizers served in a Thai restaurant in San Diego. The chili sauce was slow to hit the palate but provided just enough heat to please. Savory loved the dish as well, and looks forward to sharing it with her Thai friends.
The Mixed Appetizer consisted of Shrimp Parcels, Chicken Curry Puffs and Vegetable Dumplings, served with three dipping sauces. The Shrimp Parcels were a shrimp mousse covered with a crispy wonton skin and served with a sesame seed and lime curd. The Chicken Curry Puffs consisted of chicken with potato and parsnip, served with a cilantro and cucumber relish. The steamed Vegetable Dumplings were a beautiful green ball containing Shitake mushrooms, sweet corn, tofu, spinach and crushed peanut garlic chips, served with a soy-pumpkin sauce. Sweet noted the sweetness of all three appetizers, which was a nice contrast to the spicy calamari. Savory appreciated the variety and the unique flavors.
The Calcaire Russian River Valley 2008 was a perfect match to both appetizers. The chardonnay was flavored with green apple, white peach, mandarin and a touch of spices. Two thumbs up from the Taste Buds.
The main course
Chef Pia served three entrees: Turmeric Curry Noodles With Shrimp ($13) and Grilled Skirt Steak ($18) off the regular menu and Rainbow Trout ($20) off the special menu.
The first dish had spinach egg noodles, tofu, red onions and pickled cabbage. Sweet appreciated how the pickled cabbage offered a contrast to the sweetness of the dish, and wished there were more of it in the large serving bowl. Savory wish the noodles were cut up ahead of time, saying that it would not be a “first date” dish because of the awkwardness of rolling up the noodles on a fork with a spoon. Aside from that, the flavors were spectacular and the shrimp were cooked to perfection.
The skirt steak was a marinated Kobe beef, according to Tom. The dish was served with sautéed cauliflower and string beans with a tamarind-sesame sauce. Chef Pia also added a Spicy Potato side order ($5), with Red Bliss potatoes with Thai chili and scallions. Sweet found the beef to be tender and flavorful, while Savory would have preferred Sticky Rice as the starch side dish.
The Rainbow Trout was served in Thai tradition, the headless fish fried skin and all. The skin was crispy and the fish was tender. It was served with a mango salad with apples, basil, red onion, and red and yellow bell peppers. The Taste Buds split in their opinion on this dish. Sweet said the fish was a tad too dry and that the julienned peppers were too sliced too large and overpowered the delicate fish. Savory said the fried trout brought back memories of Mom’s cooking, though the fish was fine without the mango salad. Savory would have liked fish sauce instead.
Tom served a Cabernet Sauvignon Martellotto Paso Robles 2006 ($6) with the main course. The cab had hints of plum, currant and black pepper as well as a touch of smokiness. Both Taste Buds liked the inexpensive cab and felt it served the main courses well.
The dessert course
For dessert, Chef Pia brought out Ginger Crème Brulee ($6) and Taro Root Custard ($6).
The crème brulee brought a surprisingly potent kick of ginger, but not in a bad way if you like ginger. The lovely crunch of the torched topping added to the delight of the dish.
The custard was made in traditional Thai style, and served with a vanilla bean ice cream that had a spattering of pistachios. Who can’t help but like that? Both Taste Buds enjoyed the twin sweet treats.
Chef Pia's Thai Crispy Calamari recipe
Squid slide 2" by 2" (2 clean tubes)
Gogi flour (Thai tempura flour)
Sweet Thai Chili Sauce 2 tablespoon
Vinegar 1 tablespoon
Fried red onion (thin sliced)
1. First making the sauce by mixing Thai chili sauce with vinegar. The Thai chili sauce has the flavor of sweet and spicy while the vinegar adds some sour flavor on top. Adjust the ratio as you like.
2. Mix the squid with flour then fry in the hot oil until it is cooked; set it on pan.
3. Cook the squid with the pre-mixed sauce on the pan until they well mixed in.
4. Garnish with fried onion and crispy Thai basil leaves as you like.
About the three photos on the left above: On top is the Grilled Skirt Steak; in the middle is the Taro Root Custard with ice cream, and at the bottom are the Chedi sculptures.