The Asian fusion fast casual restaurant concept has been done, and overdone, yet will continue to exist in a variety of combinations because the typical American palate isn’t offended by bulgogi (Korean) and pad Thai gracing the same menu, or even the same dish.
The many amalgamations, merging various Asian cuisines, appeal to our salty and sweet-loving sensibilities – authentic or not.
At the newly opened Tuk Tuk Thai and Vietnamese Kitchen in Taylors, however, the term “fusion” applies only to the co-owners’ business and personal plans, and less to the menu itself.
Bill Lam, the son of Vietnamese restaurant owners in Ithaca, New York, and Nattha “Apple” Waiyawut, the granddaughter of one of the first Thai restaurant owners in Greenville, have joined their culinary backgrounds and love of their families’ authentic recipes to open a restaurant that represents both cuisines as they were intended.
Lam is quick to say their menu is not, in fact, fusion, but rather both gastronomies are featured proudly side-by-side, flavors distinct and intact.
To reinforce Lam’s chops (pun intended), two of his families’ recipes from their New York restaurant, Saigon Kitchen, were chosen for inclusion in “The World’s Best Asian Noodle Recipes: 125 Great Recipes from Top Chefs” with a foreword by Iron Chef Thailand chef Ian Kittichai. Both of them – chicken vermicelli and Saigon hot and sour soup – are family recipes and on the menu at the new restaurant.
After 15 years’ worth of experience, six of those in the kitchen at Saigon Kitchen, Lam decided to move south for a change of pace and landed in the kitchen at Basil Thai, downtown Greenville. There, he met Waiyawut, who immigrated to the United States from Thailand about two years ago with a brand new engineering degree. Without a year of work experience on the resume, she wasn’t eligible for any open positions, so she took her first kitchen job working at Lemongrass Thai Restaurant and eventually Basil Thai.
“It opened another world I didn’t have before,” she says.
Once the two met, they began dating, and Waiyawut expressed her desire to open a restaurant, as her grandmother had done with King & I Thai in Greenville years ago. Having plenty of experience in both restaurant operations and the kitchen, Lam was game.
“I kinda had it in my mind but didn’t think it would come to fruition,” Lam says of his plan to open his own restaurant before meeting his partner.
Lam says in the first two weeks open, they were pleasantly surprised by the number of repeat customers and how many of them were Vietnamese. That’s the vote of confidence they were looking for.
Highlights from the menu:
Crispy Squid – battered in lotus flour and fried for $8. (This dish alone is worth the drive from anywhere in the region.)
House Special, beef broth, rare eye round steak, brisket, tendon, meatballs, and tripe, for $11.
Green Curry, red and green bell peppers, bamboo shoots, eggplant, green peas, and basil, with choice of protein for $12-14.
Grilled Honey Lemongrass Vermicelli, choice of grilled chicken, pork or beef marinated with honey and lemongrass for $11.
Stir Fried Noodles
Pad Kee Mow (Drunken Noodles), flat rice noodles stir-fried with a choice of meat, basil, red & green bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and fresh chili, for $12-14.
5010 Old Spartanburg Road
Monday, Wednesday Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 4:30-9 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 4:30-9:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.