At Malakor Thai Isaan in Coral Gables, chef Noopy Areerak ponders whether cooking true Thai fare is an art or a science. "You need to have a deep respect for the flavorful complexity of Thai food to get it right," he says. "It's about sorting out the sweet,
In 2011, Areerak opened his first South Florida restaurant, Malakor Thai Cafe, in West Palm Beach. The eatery quickly gained a loyal following, and Kao Gang, his sushi and noodle eatery in Palm Beach Gardens, debuted the following year. Now, along with his sister, head chef Suriya Sarjai, and business partner Billy Manthy, Areerak has opened his first restaurant in Miami-Dade: Malakor Thai Isaan. And for the first time, he is focusing on the traditional food of Thailand's northeastern Isaan region, which was once his home.
Simplicity and searing spiciness are staples of Isaan cuisine, one of the most popular among Thais. Instead of using coconut milk, it's served with fiery chilies, strong fish sauces, and sour bites. Areerak wanted to present food rich with the heat and aroma of his heritage, so dishes are not adjusted to milder or sweeter to please Western tastes.
The 1,200-square-foot eatery, located on Miracle Mile, seats 30 guests. The first thing you see when you enter is a large wall displaying a replica of a Buddhist temple against the colors of the sunset. Old-fashioned fish traps and Thai baskets hang from the ceiling. The staff is mostly Thai, and the herbs and spices used in the cooking are grown at his organic family farm in Indiantown, Florida.
The menu includes sausages with pan-fried pork and Thai sauces garnished with peanut ginger and chili ($8); a crispy money bag filled with sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, and curry powder, deep-fried, and served with pineapple sauce ($8); and Thai chicken wings with spicy sauce ($9). Salad highlights are som tum tad, an Isaan specialty, served here as a sweet-and-spicy combo with freshly shredded green papaya, mixed tomato, green bean, carrots, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, anchovy, and Thai salty black shell crab ($27); and the Crying Tiger, made with grilled marinated beef tenderloin and spicy sauce ($19).
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Soups include tom yum seafood, a hot-and-sour variety with Thai herbs, lemongrass, galangal, cilantro, scallions, mushrooms, tomato, chili paste, tamarind, and lime juice ($10); and tom kha, made with plump shrimp, coconut milk, Thai herbs, lemongrass, galangal, cilantro, scallions, mushroom, tamarind, and lime juice ($7). There are also noodle dishes such as pad kee mao, stir-fried flat and thick rice noodles with spicy herbs and basil leaves ($18); and L Kao Peik Isaan, with homemade Isaan-style noodles, sliced-pork dumplings, chopped pork, and cilantro ($16).
Entrées include red curry with coconut milk, Thai red curry paste, bell peppers, pineapple, carrots, green beans, and basil ($17), and pad cha, a spicy stir-fried red curry paste with Thai eggplant, carrots, bell pepper, green beans, and kefir lime leaves ($18), to which chicken, pork, beef, tofu, veggie, shrimp, scallop, or squid can be added for an additional charge.
For dessert, there's mango sticky blackberry rice ($8), Thai doughnuts ($6), and luscious coconut ice cream ($5). Beverage options include hot and cold sake, wine, an assortment of teas, Thai iced coffee, Singha and Chang beers from Thailand ($5), and lychee, mango, and margarita martinis ($9). Malakor hosts a daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m.
Malakor Thai Isaan. 90 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 786-558-4862; malakorthaiisaan.com. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 11:30 a.m to 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 10 p.m.