Thai and Louisiana cooking are very similar because of the common geography: In both places, there’s the body of water that allows chefs to source really good local seafood, and my focus is on the seafood more than anything else. Of course, we also have meat dishes and vegetarian dishes, but I really enjoy using all of our local waters. My favorite dish is Crawfish Curry, using fresh Louisiana crawfish tails with red curry, bamboo shoots, onion, bell pepper, and coconut milk. There’s a little bit of heat in the curry, but not overwhelmingly so because of the coconut milk.
Since both Thai and Cajun cuisines have spicy, bold flavors we have to work to keep the heat from going over the top. With all that spice, it’s important to balance the flavors, so in our cooking we use a lot of sweetness—like making something with a sweet chili sauce or coconut.
We use authentic Thai ingredients from a local Asian market, and my mother has an herb garden where we grow our own kaffir limes, basil, mint, and other things. Growing up, I worked in my mother’s restaurant, Mai Tai, which was New Orleans’ first authentic Thai restaurant when it opened in the ‘70s.
Her restaurant closed, but we just renovated and expanded La Thai last fall. The reason we renovated was because our bar area was a bit lacking in design, so we started there, and ended up doing the restaurant as well. A major addition is the Nit Noi lounge area, which is very chic and has small plates with really delicious Thai street food—it’s more focused on authentic Thai food than on the marriage of Thai and Louisiana cuisines.
Since then, our business has increased significantly—it’s up at least 10 to 15 percent already. One of my favorite things to do is create craft cocktails; I see myself as a mixologist as well as a chef. So far, my favorite drink is a sparkling rosé cocktail, which has seasonal blood orange, a sparkling rosé, and a tiny bit of grapefruit bitters—so it’s very citrusy. I like to pair this with our Som Tam, the papaya salad at Nit Noi, which has shredded papaya, green beans, Thai chili, the fish sauce, garlic, and locally grown tomatoes.