Since late June, Thai eatery Chao Baan – from the family behind St. Louis’ longest-standing Thai restaurant, King & I – serves lunch and dinner featuring rustic regional cooking from southern and northeastern Thailand in that municipality’s Grove business district.
The restaurant comes from Shayn Prapaisilp and his father, Suchin. In addition to King & I, which opened nearly 40 years ago, the Prapaisilps own and operate such area mainstays as Global Foods Market, Oishi Sushi, Oishi Steakhouse and United Provisions.
Space Architecture + Design developed the roughly 3,700-square-foot space, which sports a clean, modern look with a blue, orange and gray color scheme juxtaposed with blond wood. At the moment, Chao Baan seats 80, with seating for another 20 to be added on a front patio. Basketlike light fixtures form a focal point of the dining room, evoking the imagery of fishing nets.
Chao Baan, which translates from Thai as “of the people,” features dishes from the northeast (Esaan) and southern (Pak Tai) regions of Thailand, with roots in Yala and Loei provinces. Shayn Prapaisilp’s mother comes from the former, which is closer to Laos, while his father hails from the latter, which is closer to Malaysia. According to the younger Prapaisilp, the northeast uses a lot of bright citrus, fish sauce and fresh vegetables and herbs, while southern cooking features a lot of dry heat and ingredients like turmeric.
“These are the foods I grew up eating, and for my parents, it’s the way their parents cooked for them,” says Prapaisilp. “It’s homey comfort food that families enjoy at home. We’re really encouraging folks to come get three or four plates to share and eat with rice together.”
The lunch menu features a selection of seven items such as kanom jeen nam ya, or vermicelli noodles served with a sweet and spicy gravy, topped with greens. For dinner, guests can choose from highlights like one of Prapaisilp’s personal favorites, khao tod nam sod, or rice mixed with spicy curry paste, fried twice and served with pork sausage, ginger and cilantro.
Another unique offering, gaeng som – one of southern Thailand’s most famous dishes – involves white fish and papaya simmered in a broth with turmeric and chiles. For an interesting appetizer, guest also might try the jaew sampler, which features crudités with a combination of three dips: jaew bong (chiles, the ginger flavoring galangal), nam prik noom (shallots and chiles), and nam prik ong (ground pork, tomatoes).
Chao Baan’s bar offers beer by the can and bottle, including Thai brands like Chang and Singha. A wine list features selections by the glass or bottle that pair well with the fare, including hand-selected rosés, sparkling wines, whites and reds. Nonalcoholic beverages include Thai tea, Thai coffee, coconut water and lychee juice, and a forthcoming cocktail menu will feature such options as a tamarind whiskey sour.
All in all, for the gustatorily adventurous, Chao Baan would make a fine preshow stop before viewing The Lifespan of a Fact from The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
“We’re really excited for people to try this Thai food because we’re going really deep,” Prapaisilp says. “It’s great that St. Louis has been so welcoming to new Thai restaurants. We’re hoping to let folks take the next step by coming out to try really rustic Thai cooking.”
Chao Baan, 4087 Chouteau Ave., Suite 5, St. Louis, 314-925-8250, chaobaanstl.com