Qi Esarn offers news dishes upon reopeningPosted on September 24, 2013 | by Utpala Menon
Less than two weeks back into business, Qi Esarn Thai Kitchen is buzzing again.
Located on 14th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the restaurant is one of three branches owned by the Qi group. The restaurant was previously called Qi Asian Eatery, but it reopened on Sept. 12 as Qi Esarn Thai Grill to celebrate the spicy flavors of Esarn, a region in northern Thailand.
The owners decided to bring the region’s unconventional Thai cuisine to the culturally diverse Union Square area, and the results look promising.
“It’s a challenge to get customers to try new dishes … they order the usual pad Thai curry,” Ahm Bopit, a partner at Qi, said. “We try to present them with menus that include items they are not so familiar with, which might get them to learn more about Thailand through authentic Thai food.”
The masterminds behind the culinary concepts at Qi Esarn are Pichet Ong and Claire Handleman.
While his dishes often showcase a mélange of flavors, Ong attributes his roots to Thai cuisine. The former pastry chef never fails to add spicy Esarn flavors to Western dishes. His signature dish is Ovaltine mousse cake ($7.90), which marries layered cake and roasted caramel nuts, salted caramel and chocolate-based Thai chili sauce.
Handleman, who has appeared on ABC’s “The Chef,” spends a larger portion of the year in Thailand, so her dishes are authentically Thai. Try her neua namtok ($11.90), a hangar-grilled steak salad marinated in tamarind sauce, or mor gaeng ($5.90), a cashew and mung bean cake.
The spices used at Esarn may scare away nonnative customers. Nevertheless, the chefs offer distinctive ways of balancing the heat-chilled vegetables and ice cubes. This is an Esarn custom, making the experience all the more authentic.
Such a unique culinary experience that still caters to a diverse audience sounds expensive. Yet this is not the case, as Qi Ersan is very affordable, with a majority of the dishes under $10, just like other restaurants under the Qi group.
“The pad Thai was gorgeously decorated and wrapped in egg whites, something truly unique,” CAS sophomore Swati Malik said. “As a college student, the prices are reasonable and so are the quantities of food served. I’d definitely recommend the place, especially for Thai lovers around Union Square.”
With a deep-rooted cultural streak in Qi’s roots, the reopened restaurant not only brings authenticity in its food but also atmosphere. The owners, along with designer Thida Thongthai, efficaciously showcase cultural authenticity of northern Thailand in crowded Manhattan. While its wooden tabletops and glass bar elegantly justify the restaurant’s profile as a modern Lower Manhattan restaurant, its decorations give Qi a sense of mystique. It manages to be both traditional Thai and modern Manhattan at the same time.
“Open yourself up to new experiences and unique flavors when you dine at Qi,” Bopit said.
Qi Ersan Thai Grill is located on 31 14th St.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 24 print edition. Utpala Menon is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.