On Tuesday night, Laura Kostelny and I attended the media dinner for Naga Thai Kitchen & Bar in Victory Park. According to co-owner Jeffrey Yarbrough, he had Nancy to thank for spilling the beans about the restaurant’s opening; people showed up when the staff wasn’t quite ready to serve, but no one was turned away. So much for a soft opening, right?
But things are rocking and rolling these days at Naga, where Yarbrough and partners Tom Chawana (founder of Nandina), Lam Promwanrat (partner in Jasmine), and Kitti Lirtpanaruk (New York restaurateur with 20+ Thai restaurants) are serving some old favorites from the gone-but-definitely-not-forgotten Liberty, such as Annie Wong’s coconut chicken soup and spicy noodles.
Naga could be the thing that gives Victory Park a much-needed shot in the arm. Or at least its Victory Park location won’t deter diners who want excellent Thai food for around 10 bucks a plate. The wine list, put together by Yarbrough, features wines by the glass for $9 or less–including an excellent La Vielle Ferme Rose for $6 a glass and $23 a bottle–and bottles are generally less than $40. Only seven bottles on the list are more than $50.
Our dinner comprised seven courses, but really there were more like 14, because each round had more than one dish to taste. In the words of my dinner companion, we ate everything that wasn’t nailed down. Self-control didn’t enter the equation.
The first course was an appetizer plate: Four Season roll, which had a veggie-minty-crunchy thing going on; crab rangoon with cream cheese, crab, and spicy curry; steamed chicken and shrimp dumpling; and a crispy and light curry puff filled with chicken and potato stir-fried in curry paste. I’ll take 100, please. Other highlights included heat-packed papaya salad with crunchy strings of papaya and carrot tossed with peanuts, red chilies, and shrimp. If memory serves, that’s a $7 dish, one that I would walk 10 miles to eat. Pretty much every plate had a spicy, peanut-y thing going on, including King Rama with chicken, which also had a bounty of bok choy, lotus root, and broccoli. Yarbrough had to tell the chefs to turn up the heat because the Texans could take it. They’re nailing it now.
Other can’t miss dishes: dreamy sweet-and-spicy coconut chicken soup with chunks of pineapple and another Annie Wong recipe, spicy noodle with chicken, which was loaded wide noodles, shredded chicken, and red and green peppers. And here’s an interesting twist: you can order pad Thai without noodles; instead it comes with shredded carrot. I might have had more pictures to share if I hadn’t stuck my fork in the food before it occurred to me to use the camera. Yes, it’s that good.