By Tonya West
For Hometown News
It would've been difficult to open a Thai restaurant without fresh lemongrass, basil, chilies and ginger, said Sarine Sok, chef/owner of Thai Woodhouse in South Daytona.
These authentic ingredients are what distinguishes one dish from the next. If they are flavors that you find enjoyable and Thai food is new to you, Mr. Sok suggests the best way to "try Thai" is with friends.
Thai Woodhouse's dishes are generous and served on platters all at once to facilitate sharing. It's a great way to zero in on what you like, so you have a basis to start from the next time you venture out. Mr. Sok is very supportive of area Thai restaurants and encourages restaurant goers to try them all.
Not all Thai food is spicy hot, but if you are concerned with temperature, you can always ask for a dish to be less spicy. A mid-range heat offers a nice balance between the sweet and peppery flavors that accent Thai dishes.
Mr. Sok has almost 15 years of experience with restaurant ownership in Florida and the Thai Woodhouse, which seats 56, is his third. It opened in late January 2013 and its name is meant to evoke a feeling of warmth and home. The Soks have accomplished this intent through the creation of a simple, unencumbered interior of natural wood tones, warm gold fabric accents and rustic stylish backed chairs. The exterior view shows off lovely concrete dye washed in natural color with swaying potted bamboo.
Known for his Pad Thai, people are also in love with Mr. Sok's Pumpkin Curry. Many who have experienced his previous menus will be happy that an old favorite is being offered again: the Roasted Duck with Sweet Basil Sauce. The meat is tender, seared to perfection, and served surrounded by beautifully cut eggplant, zucchini and onion.
Another traditional dish, the main ingredient of which is said to lower blood pressure, is the Papaya Salad. Using fresh, green papaya, the fruit is peeled then quickly shredded into a mortar with lime and fish sauce, sweetened with palm sugar.
Thai Woodhouse is anticipating the arrival of mango season. When it's winter here, it's summer in South America and soon mangoes, a staple of Thai cuisine, will be in season.
"Mangoes are an amazing food," said Mr. Sok. "When the mango is still green, we make a traditional mango salad. When it's ripe, we can make a dessert with sticky rice, sweet mango and coconut cream. I also use it in my curry. I chop it in, not wanting to overcook it so you can enjoy a balance of spicy and sweet."
In 1980, Mr. Sok immigrated with his brother to Paris, France, to live with their uncle. Although he studied to be an engineer while in France, the Sok brothers opened a small 12-seat restaurant and thus began the dream of someday opening his own.
Owning a restaurant was not a dream for a boy, Mr. Sok said. "Always, we dream of computers and technology. But my uncle said, where ever you go, you have to eat. You won't go wrong opening a restaurant."
Mr. Sok's wife, Dianna, works alongside her husband and also has a long history preparing food. Mrs. Sok comes from a farming family, so she was sent to school at a Catholic nun's home, where she spent four years tending to orphans and learning to cook Laotian, Thai and Italian food. Her family escaped to Thailand during the regime change and she spent a brief amount of time in a refugee camp cooking.
In the interest of teaching people about Thai culture, Mr. Sok offers cooking classes for small groups on Saturday mornings. He grew up in Laos, where his mother was a street food vendor and he loves passing on how to make curries, pad thai and papaya salad.
Thai Woodhouse is part of the Dec. 29 Food Festival at Father Lopez Catholic High School. Admission is free and there will be live entertainment from noon to 6 p.m.
Thai Woodhouse is at 2900 S. Nova Rd. in South Daytona. You may also preview their menu at thaiwoodhouse.com.