Prai Kitchen opened Nov. 2 on LaSalle Road in West Hartford Center.
By Ronni Newton
A fresh take on Thai cuisine has come to West Hartford Center with the opening of Prai Kitchen at 23 LaSalle Rd. last week.
Prai replaced another Asian restaurant – Murasaki – that had occupied the space for 14 years, but after nearly four months of renovation the look and feel is dramatically different. And although the Asian fusion menu offers some Japanese dishes, as well as a few Vietnamese and American touches, Thai definitely takes the lead.
Husband and wife owners Ron Thongsri and Kiki Singhanon are no strangers to the restaurant industry. The pair also own Siam Glastonbury and Siam Hartford. Thongsri’s sister, Kit Tongsri, by day a project engineer with the MDC, is managing Prai Kitchen.
“The food is very authentic Thai. We use all fresh ingredients,” Tongsri said.
They have also kept a few of Murasaki’s signature dishes, like the ramen and the Age Dashi Tofu appetizer, and plan to add a few more Japanese soups to the menu. Tongsri said that during the transition they became friends with the former Murasaki owners, who shared their recipes. Many of Siam’s favorites are on the menu as well.
Tongsri said some of the “must-try” dishes include the Lamb Shank Massaman Curry (stewed lamb shank with coconut milk soup mixed with curry paste, potatoes, onion and roasted peanuts). The curry is a traditional Thai preparation, but serving it with lamb is an American twist, said Tongsri. At $26, it’s the most expensive item on the menu where entree prices begin at just $13.
The Prai Chicken Basil (stir-fried ground chicken with garlic, bell pepper, mushroom, string bean, chili, and a sunny side up egg on top, $15) is “very traditional Thai,” Tongsri said.
The spicy Drunken Udon (sauteed udon noodles with seafood, basil, chili, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and egg, $18), is certain to become one of Prai’s signature dishes, Tongsri said. It’s her personal favorite, she said.
The Prai Rib Eye (grilled rib eye and asparagus with sticky rice and dried chili dipping sauce, $24) is a blend of Thai flavors on a decidedly American cut of beef.
Another recommendation is the Grilled Sea Bass (served with asparagus and home-style lemongrass barbecue sauce, $24), also a fusion of Thai and American styles.
The Basil Red Snapper (with basil leaves, bell pepper, and chili on steamed bok choi, $20), is fileted, but served with the head in a traditional Thai preparation.
Pad Thai is likely a go-to Thai staple for many diners. “Ours is excellent, one of the best,” Tonsgri said.
Appetizers range in price from $5-$8. Tongsri said that the summer rolls (lettuce, mint, carrot, and rice vermicelli combined with boiled shrimp in softened rice paper served with peanut and chili vinegar sauce, $6 a Vietnamese style item – are excellent.
Prai Kitchen also has soups and salads ($5-$11), with one of the highlights being the papaya salad (green papaya mixed with tomato, string beans, roasted peanut, garlic, lime juice, and chili), Tongsri said.
Many of the dishes are gluten free, and there are also a large number of vegetarian options. “We try to cater to our customer’s needs, with allergies, too,” said Tongsri.
In addition to the food, Prai Kitchen has also gotten a style upgrade.
Architecturally, the space now has an industrial/minimalist look. Gone is the old-style wallpaper, the chains no longer hang from the ceiling, and the stark lighting has been replaced. The ceiling is exposed, as is the original brick wall, and modern bronze pendants with Edison bulbs provide more subdued lighting in the cozy space while red and blue pillows accent the bench seating along one wall.
The sushi bar is also gone, replaced with a small service bar. Prai Kitchen’s liquor license application is in the works, Tongsri said, but for now the restaurant is BYOB.
The interior seats 35, and plans are for outdoor seating to open next spring.
Tongsri said the restaurant is named for her niece, Thongsri and Singhanon’s 2-year-old daughter whose name is Prai. “If you ask her, she says she knows it’s hers,” Tongsri said.
Prai Kitchen opened quietly on Thursday, but it’s already being discovered by passersby in the Center. Throughout the month of November they are welcoming diners with 20 percent off all menu items, and have plans in the works for a grand opening celebration, Tongsri said.
Prai is open seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tongsri said they may extend closing time hours on the weekends if there is a demand.
Plans are to add delivery in the near future, too.
Tongsri said her family is very excited to have a presence in West Hartford. “West Hartford is very vibrant, especially the Center area.” Tongsri said that while there are other Asian restaurants in the area, Prai Kitchen’s fusion style brings something new to the already bustling West Hartford dining scene.
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