Thai-born former restaurateur Chutatip Suntaranon (“just call me ‘Nok’”), armed with a degree from the French Culinary Institute in New York, has been cooking for her Queen Village neighbors for years. My-Le Vuong, a Vietnamese-born veteran restaurant manager with some of the big names in Manhattan (Jean-Georges, Alain Ducasse, Mario Batali) , moved in across the street five years ago.
Friendship blossomed. They led cooking classes and started a catering business.
April 10 is Day One for Kalaya, a homey, 30-seat BYOB, at 764 S. Ninth St. (215-385-3777), two doors from Ralph’s Italian restaurant in Bella Vista. The space was last a short-lived Ralph’s to-go shop.
Say it “ka-la-YA.”
"It's the same cooking that you will eat in a Thai restaurant in Thailand," says Suntaranon, who is influenced by the cooking of her Chinese-born mother, Kalaya (whose style is the Malay-Chinese hybrid Peranakan), her grandmother ("more adventurous"), and her great-grandmother ("upscale").
Everything in the kitchen comes from scratch, down to the chili pastes (plural). Pad Thai? Not at dinner. “It’s lunch food, a quick meal,” Suntaranon says. But you will find shareable orders of toon tong (a golden pouch filled with potato, curry powder and sweet chili sauce), kua kling (a fiery-spicy Southern Thai toasted beef curry whose lemongrass and kaffir leaf competes with long hots and peppercorns), and moo pad kapi (a stir-fried pork in shrimp paste).
There are vegan/vegetarian/gluten free options on the menu, which helpfully denotes spiciness. I’m a particular fan of the kang gai khao mun, a rich chicken curry with cilantro, pandan, and coconut rice. How’s this for home cooking? When I interviewed Suntaranon and Vuong back in January, they insisted upon serving me lunch in Suntaranon’s kitchen.
On its debut week, Kalaya is open 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. Sunday dinner will be added on April 25, and lunch (and yes, with pad Thai) is on the way.