posted on June 13, 2007 at 5:13 am
When it comes to intown ethnic restaurants, our options are sadly limited due to high rents and our predisposition to the large concept restaurant that have overrun our metro area real estate. Thai food is one of the rare exceptions to the rule—we have almost too many Thai restaurants. I have to admit, I have been a bit bored with Thai cuisine and don’t eat it as much as I used to. I am not sure if it is the execution or my mother’s dependence on Thai takeout when I was growing up. Whatever the case, I find myself reaching for Korean, Vietnamese, or Japanese when I am craving something ethnic—anything but Thai food. However, my recent visits to Nan may have just changed that.
Owners Charlie and Nan Niyomkul have created a mini Thai empire. Their first restaurant, Tamarind, was a runaway success despite its awkward location and lack of parking (the restaurant has closed though and moved to Colony Square). Their second effort, Nan Thai Fine Dining, is in a much better location with valet parking and stunning design by Johnson Design Studio—the space is bright, airy, and chic during the day and glows gold at night. While the aim of Nan is more refined Thai fusion, the chef’s grasp on the elements of Thai cuisine is outstanding and the creativity pays off. When you enter the space, there is a display full of all the spices being used in the dishes. When I asked a question about a flavor in a dish that I could not place, my waitress retrieved the spices and presented them on a plate while giving descriptions of the flavors. She was also a bit of a performer and expertly tilted the tray holding my chilled beer glass to create the perfect pour. She was knowledgeable and exhibited a great deal of respect for each dish the chef prepared. She was the kind of waitress that you never know is there, but all the interactions are pleasurable and elegant. Probably the best service experience, outside of Restaurant Eugene, that I have had all year and that includes my experience at the Dining Room.
On one visit, I decided to go very basic and ordered the coconut soup and pad Thai. You may think my order is boring, but these dishes were the first two Thai dishes I had as a child and I have been trying to find versions that did that first experience justice. Nan’s soup was silky, spicy and it left your tongue tingling with the unmistakable bite of galanga. The shrimp inside the soup were very fresh and cooked to absolute perfection. The portion size was also spot on. My pad thai was probably the best version I have had in a very long time. A problem I find with many pad thai dishes around town, is that they are sickly sweet and the flavor of the tamarind is lost. The balance of flavors had me saying wow and the shrimp was so fresh and not overcooked as many other versions are.
Calamari is one of those dishes that is so ridiculously overexposed at every restaurant in the U.S. I found Nan’s to be crave-worthy. I could not stop eating the tender and crispy morsels bathed in a chili sauce with the right amount of sweetness and heat. The beef salad was not the most authentic version, but the meat melted in my mouth and the dipping sauce cut the fat of the beef quite well. The jasmine and forbidden rice cake that accompanied the dish was the only disappointment as it was a bit too chewy for my taste. The best dish had to be the whole red snapper bathed in roasted red curry sauce with sautéed spinach and flash-fried basil leaves. The fried nuggets of fish were perfectly fried and not greasy at all. The curry paired nicely with the crisp fish and the fried basil was a whimsical addition that I really enjoyed. The short rib with masaman curry was a bit unbalanced. While the ribs were very tender, I found the sauce to be a bit heavy on the seasoning and it overpowered the dish. Green curry with shrimp was well prepared and even better over the jasmine rice served in individual metal pots.
Verdict: While more expensive than many other Atlanta-area Thai restaurants, Nan is winner worth visiting again and again. The gracious staff makes you feel like royalty from the moment you walk into the door. The food is fabulous even if it veers a bit away from traditional Thai cuisine. If the prices are an issue, go for one of the curry or noodle dishes. It is on the fancier side and reservations are recommended.
Address: 1350 Spring Street, 30309
Phone: (404) 870-9933