Ponpawit Numnuan certainly has courage.
Most people would be happy to open and find success with one restaurant especially Numnuan's restaurant, Thai Garden, which was popular almost immediately and won two Dining Awards from Salt Lake City magazine earlier this year.
Numnuan, however, isn't resting on his laurels. Instead, he sold Thai Garden to a friend and has opened a new, eponymous eatery, Pawit's Royale Thai Cuisine, that has a different ambience than Thai Garden but all the same courtly, attentive service and an extensive menu of delicious Thai food.
But don't worry if you get overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of succulent choices, Pawit himself likely will arrive at your table with greetings and good advice. We overheard one of our fellow diners ask Numnuan just to choose for him and his two children. "I trust you," the man said. And you can, too.
We started with the juicy and golden-brown chicken satay and por pia sod, two steamed spring rolls filled with crunchy veggies, shrimp and shredded chicken. The rolls were of a soft and virginal whiteness, and they tasted as fresh as they looked. I liked dipping them in the accompanying dark, syrupy sauce, which is made from scratch.
We also had a bowl of tom kha, the best chicken soup in the world, which at Pawit's place is rich, milky and sweet, with lots of lemongrass flavor and spoonsful of crunchy veggies and lean chicken. This is a dish for adults that kids can enjoy, too.
Not so for our first entree, the massaman curry, but that was our fault. I ordered this classic green curry without specifying heat level (the menu said it is "medium to mild," but the cooks at Pawit's will make it however you like), and it arrived high on the medium side of that spectrum, with a lip-tingling finish to its sauce of curry, coconut milk and tamarind juice.
That was OK with me I like spicy but the husband and kids didn't have any. Perhaps that was all part of my fiendish plan: this way, I had this stew-like melange of chicken, carrots, potatoes and peanuts all to myself. It makes a great next-day lunch, too.
We also tried a couple of dishes new to us, starting with the lard naa, wide, chewy rice noodles stir-fried in soy sauce and topped with crisp-tender broccoli, baby corn, mushrooms and (in our case) tofu cubes, in a mild, gravy-like black-bean sauce. This was another kid favorite, with warm, rich flavors.
But best of all was the pan him ma parn, a stir-fry of pineapple, onions, sliced beef, red and green bell peppers, cashews and toasted diced chilies in a thin, dark sauce that was savory and distinctive without over-asserting itself. The mix of flavors is refreshing and exotic, but approachable. We could have used another order or two, we put it away so quickly.
When it came time for dessert, our choices were limited. The place was temporarily out of coconut ice cream, and it's not exactly mango season right now, so we had sweet, eggy Thai custard over coconut milk-infused sticky rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds. This is a nicely balanced dish, with the rice, creamy and flavorful but not too sweet, a good base for the custard. We had two plates of it, and my 11-month-old son ate practically a whole portion on his own.Appetizers $4.95-$14.95; soups, salads and sides $2.95-$14.95; Pawit's recommendations $10.95-$15.95; other entrees $7.95-$12.95; desserts $3.50-$5.95.
Where: 1968 E. Murray-Holladay Rd., Holladay
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 4:30-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 4:30-10 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Phone: 277-3658Wheelchair access: Easy
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org