Vermont is home to dozens of Thai restaurants — some more authentic than others. After a while, the menus start to blur together with their familiar Bangkok-style cookery: pad Thai, drunken noodles, curries, more noodles. But in early April, husband-and-wife team Steve and Nisachon "Rung" Morgan will bring a new kind of Thai cooking to downtown Randolph.
Located beside the White River Craft Center in the historic Kimball House building at 50 Randolph Avenue, Saap (Thai for "tasty") will serve Isan-style food, which is renowned for its saturated, pungent flavors.
In recent years, the northern Thai cuisine has become trendy in New York and other cities around the country, but Saap will be the first Isan spot in Vermont. Traditionally served family-style, meals are constructed bit by bit using sticky rice, grilled or fried proteins and vegetables, and a wide variety of zippy, herbaceous sauces.
"This food is not shy in any sense," says Connor Morgan, Steve's son, who will run the front of the house. "It's unapologetic in its bold flavors and fermented kind of funkiness."
In the kitchen, Isan native Rung will lead the charge, preparing dishes on a wood-fired grill. Steve, a classically trained chef and former New England Culinary Institute instructor, will help with cooking and handle overall kitchen and back-of-house management.
The opening bill of fare offers flame-grilled meats such as gai yang — a fragrant, marinated half-chicken served with sweet chili sauce and sour tamarind sauce — and mok pla suai, a curry- and herb-crusted suai fish rolled into a banana leaf and charred.
The menu also includes delicate, brothy soups, such as tom yum poa taek, which is similar to a standard Thai coconut soup but loaded with squid and shellfish; and various chopped-meat salads, alternately called laap, laab or larb, depending on who's writing the menu. Small plates include peek gai tod — garlicky, sticky, sweet-and-sour chicken wings popularized by Stowe native Andy Ricker, whose Pok Pok restaurants are perennial hot spots in Portland, Ore., and New York City.
"These are very regional, complex and refined dishes," Connor says of the food, "which have been made and tinkered with for thousands of years. We really just wanted to bring that back to Vermont and pair it with our craft artisan food and beer scene."
Behind the bar, Connor will pour local brews — many from nearby Bent Hill Brewery — from six draft lines, and pop bottles of wine and Thai beers. Desserts will include house-made coconut and crystallized-ginger ice creams, handmade ice cream sandwiches and Thai popsicles.
The restaurant connects with the White River Craft Center gallery, which will double as a space for events (live music, community events and workshops) and group dining.
This summer, Saap will offer outdoor seating (perhaps with frozen beer slushies) and a kitchen garden, where Rung plans to grow some of the herbs and veggies herself. Much of the meat and fresh produce will be sourced locally, while harder-to-find specialties will come from a traveling purveyor from Boston.
The Morgans say they haven't settled on an opening date yet, but they've narrowed it down to either Friday, April 3, or Friday, April 10.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Northern Exposure"
scarfer: Their website does not include a menu or phone number. Any clues?
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