Twenty years as a chef has taught Bua Nartpranin, a self-proclaimed cooking perfectionist, the secret to delicious food: fresh ingredients combined with just the right amount of spices and herbs, grown in her very own garden. Her culinary talents have taken her to northeastern Thailand, Atlanta, New York, and finally New Jersey, where she whips up dishes in the kitchen at Lotus Thai Cuisine with the motto of "always cook with love and passion." Her garden-fresh herbs and spices are found in a smattering of sauces—from the spicy chili sauce that blankets crispy red snapper to curries and basil sauce that flavor chicken and tofu. And when she is not busy cooking at the restaurant, Bua happily cooks for her three children at home or for anyone she hears is hungry and stuck in a nearby elevator.
Asian Station 82nd indulges diners with a sumptuous fusion menu that blends classic Japanese fare with modern and traditional Thai dishes. Chefs flaunt their creativity with specialty rolls that artfully envelop fresh seafood such as king crab, spicy scallops, or tuna, and they assemble entrees including tangerine beef and mango chicken that showcase light Asian flavors.
Though the restaurant flaunts an elegant, modern interior design, a sound system playing Top 40 tunes, a mounted flat-screen television, and a vast selection of sake all help forge a more relaxed atmosphere. Diners can eat in the main room or in an auxiliary dining room, where cushioned benches support guests looking up at the illuminated cerulean dome or walls adorned with oversize red and black squares left over from the painting crew's checkers tourneys.
Tale' Thai Cuisine's ambitious menu ventures into many of the Thai style's less frequented flavors, from pumpkin-infused curry to mango and lemongrass salsa. Chefs also instill standard dishes such as duck and filleted fish with classic spices and textures such as Thai basil, cashews, and sweet-and-spicy tamarind sauce. The bright hues of red peppers and broccoli stalks pop against the restaurant's hardwood floors and dark leather chairs, both dominated by a sleek backlit bar that, like every public library, stacks its shelves with bottles of wine and fine liquors.
"It sounds like an NYU student’s dream come true," Time Out New York said about Cafetasia, "a sleek eatery on 8th Street serving dishes for less than $10." Indeed, the eatery stands out as a Greenwich Village haven for patrons seeking an innovative dining experience that nonetheless manages to feel inviting and deeply familiar. This sense of déjà vu is most likely triggered by Cafetasia’s cafeteria-style wooden tables—imported from Europe one splinter at a time and reassembled here. These communal tables invite guests to share elbow space as well as a bit of conversation with their fellow diners, much like in a college dining hall.
And much like a dining hall, the menu emphasizes the power of choice by offering a spread of tapas-style small plates; however, the chefs' skills with pan-Asian flavors elevate the cuisine above any cafeteria buffet. Borders don't constrain the chefs' ambition, and they jump from Japan and China to Thailand and Vietnam as they forge their shareable plates. In addition to curries tinged with aromatic doses of basil, pumpkin, or roasted chilies, the menu features teriyaki-glazed chicken, spring rolls with a pineapple-vinaigrette dipping sauce, and ginger-kissed chicken gyoza, which New York magazine called "addictive."
Cafetasia's dining room's décor also aims for a balance between the modern and the familiar. Suspended electric candlesticks seem to float above the tables, casting their gentle light across the rich wooden walls and ceiling. A burnished Buddha statue and a leafy potted plant lend a bit of traditional flair to the restaurant's warm and inviting ambiance.
Lantern Thai crafts inventive and authentic Thai dishes, each elegantly arranged on crisp geometric plates, inside a cinnamon-hued space. Beneath circular chandeliers reminiscent of medieval candelabras, appetizers rejoin ingredients in tasty combinations such as the Lantern’s Angel’s shrimp fried in a coating of crispy angel-hair noodles served with honey-chili dipping sauce. A rainbow of curries sinks beef, chicken, and shrimp into vibrant broths flavored with complex spice blends, and iconic Thai dishes marry noodles and fried rice to bell peppers, pineapple, and meats or veggies. The lengthy drink menu includes three types of saki, lychee-spiked mimosas and mojitos, draft beer, and wine to wet whistles or grease bike chains in a pinch.
The classic Thai curries and noodle dishes that stock Asiam Thai's huge menu come to life amid artistic garnishes of carrots and cilantro perched on funky, sculptural dishes. Cucumbers and scallions lend a crunch to duck rolls encased in pastry shells and drenched in tamarind hoisin. Protein choices such as tofu, chicken, and beef can star in creamy, coconut-based curries and tangles of glass noodles alongside more exotic options such as vegetarian duck, squid, or scallops. A sleek, black corner storefront with floor-to-ceiling windows frames the riot of color on the plates, and the dark-wood bar that slides along one side of the room beckons quick bites or even quicker naps.