Taste of Thailand Turns Twenty With Fresh Spirit and "Beautiful Fish"
When Taste of Thailand opened, there were a total of five Thai restaurants in Denver. In the intervening twenty years, Thai cuisine has blossomed in town, but Taste of Thailand has stuck close to its time-tested formula of garden-fresh cuisine, traditional Thai recipes (with a few Colorado twists), friendly service -- and "flu shot" soup, a Thai take on curative chicken soup. And owners Noy and Rick Farrell aren't about to change that formula now, as Taste of Thailand marks its twentieth birthday this month.
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The Farrells still maintain a garden that provides much of the menu's freshness and they still cater to the hospital staff and medical businesses in the area. Still, they recognize that things have changed. "Our black Labrador is now white and our daughter is waiting tables," says Rick.
Business has shifted a little over the years, too. Rick says the neighborhood has become more vibrant and lively at night, with customers coming from Cherry Hills and the University of Denver neighborhood in addition to surrounding Englewood, while health-care workers seem more pressed for time. The restaurant still does a brisk take-out and delivery business for the hospital complex, but Farrell thinks most employees there just don't go out for lunch, and the clerical staff has all but disappeared.
In addition to the traditional Thai dishes coming out of the kitchen that Noy Farrell oversees -- she uses no fewer than seventeen ingredients in her pad Thai -- the menu features seasonal touches, Colorado influences, and fresh ideas from the couple's regular trips to northern Thailand. Rick says their garden is producing lots of leafy greens and herbs right now -- Swiss chard, broccoli leaves, lemon grass, lemon balm -- as well as a great garlic crop. Tomatoes are just coming in too, he adds.
The restaurant goes through about twenty bushels of roasted green chiles from street vendors in north Denver and uses Palisade peaches as long as they are in season. (Rick says their own peach trees didn't produce fruit this year.)
An extended trip to Lampang and Phrae, Noy's home town, this summer meant they weren't able to grow as much as they have in past years, but neighbors and regular customers have filled in the gaps, delivering squash, cucumbers and other vegetables from their own gardens.
Noy says she is planning a special menu to celebrate the restaurant's anniversary, but in the meantime, she's brought a gift from Thailand back for the city of Denver: a fish dish that was "catching on and spreading in restaurants" along their travels. Called pla suoy -- "beautiful fish" -- the dish features a sauce and toppings the couple had never seen before (in the U.S. or Thailand), so they tracked down a recipe and have introduced it at Taste of Thailand. It's on the menu now: Noy is keeping the exact ingredients a secret but she invites Denverites to try something that she believes is unique in the city.
And Rick hopes that people will continue to be drawn by what the restaurant has attempted to do well since 1994: "Northern style preparation, careful attention to the complexities of true Thai cuisine" and "keeping a fresh spirit" to go with those garden-fresh flavors.