Have your chopsticks at the ready, Baltimore; kosher Thai cuisine has come to a restaurant near you.
Ta’am Thai, a sushi bar and Asian fusion restaurant located in Pikesville on 1500 Reisterstown Road, seeks to offer a unique dining experience by giving the local Jewish community authentic Thai food certified by Star-K Kosher Certification, according to the restaurant’s owner Chaim Lazar, who spoke with the JT a few days before opening for business.
Ta’am Thai held a soft opening on June 7, with a number of dishes ready for order. Lazar anticipates that over the coming weeks more dishes will be gradually added until the full menu is available to customers. Presently, in compliance with social distancing norms, the restaurant is focused entirely on curbside, contactless takeout. When social distancing is relaxed by the state, Lazar looks forward to providing customers with his take on the sit-down dining experience.
“I’m hoping to really set myself apart in a very elegant, high-end feel, customer service being unsurpassed by anything that’s here in Baltimore,” Lazar said. “Customers should have that feeling that they received five-star service, without paying a five-star bill.
“But at the same time, we will be doing a very robust takeout and allowing that side of the business to cater for people who just want to have a quick lunch, business-meeting lunch, things like that,” Lazar continued. “But it’ll definitely be a place that will both have a romantic ambiance as well as a professional ambiance for people doing things of that nature.”
Originally from Baltimore, Lazar has opened a number of different businesses and has had restaurant management experience over the past seven years.
“Thai food in the kosher world is very difficult to find,” Lazar said. “There are very few restaurants in the country doing it. There’s a handful in the world.”
The reason for this, Lazar said, is that many of the ingredients in authentic Thai cuisine are inherently not kosher. As a result, most restaurant owners are reluctant to try to grab hold of this culinary third rail.
His connections in the restaurant industry, however, led Lazar to his current head chef, Yu Chen, who has 15 years of experience working in kosher restaurants in Manhattan, including in the select space of kosher Thai food, Lazar said. As Chen understands “the complexity of the kosher consumer and market, as well as the Thai profile,” Lazar said he represents “an unbelievable match for Baltimore.”
Lazar initially began working to open his kosher Thai restaurant over a year ago, selecting a location near Seven Mile Market, he said. When that deal didn’t work out, the plan was placed on hold, as he views a restaurant’s location as intrinsic to success.
Nine or 10 months afterward, Lazar learned that the restaurant at Ta’am Thai’s present location was looking for someone to take over their lease. Seeing an opportunity, Lazar brokered a deal and began renovations.
“It was nice to begin with,” Lazar said, “but I really wanted to build a very upscale feel in Baltimore.”
These renovations included repainting, creating a new waiting area, tearing down and rebuilding the bar, and remodeling the bathrooms, Lazar said. He added that outdoor seating would also be available at a later date.
When asked if there were any particular dishes customers should try, Lazar recommended the pad thai, the red curry, and the Thai basil rice. He expressed that these dishes would open patrons up to “a completely new flavor profile that they’ve not tasted in the Chinese world.”
It goes without saying that a global pandemic that closes restaurants across the country is perhaps not the situation in which one would want to try to open a new dining facility, and Lazar acknowledged that the timing was not ideal.
“This was actually slated to open right after Passover,” Lazar said. “I had to put a completely hard stop to it, mostly due to the staff not feeling comfortable working in that environment.”
As such, Lazar faced additional hurdles in an endeavor that normally would already have more than enough hurdles in the best of times.
Still, Lazar expressed confidence in the enterprise, saying that Asian food is “a comfort food. I would call it a recession-proof cuisine, in a sense, that it’s the type of food that people [gravitate to] no matter what is happening in the world, especially in the Jewish community.”