A Weeknight Dinner in Downtown Denville | Thai Chef
After a long day’s work, I stepped out into the sunny, somewhat humid, 70-degree evening. I walked the several blocks to my car and (noting that this was a week to share a restaurant review), I decided to review some menus to determine where to go.
I ended up in downtown Denville, off of Broadway. Turning left onto 1st Ave, I passed The Pasta Shop and The Grassroots Natural Market before grabbing one of the last parking spots in a lot across from El Mejicano.
It was past 6:00 pm and I didn’t see any signs to pay for the parking so I grabbed my bag and made my way to the sidewalk alongside the building’s globe mural. Turning the corner of the building to the left sits Clyde’s Cleaners and then Thai Chef.
Thai Chef’s Interior Design
The small entryway had a wall lined with wooden-framed mirrors. Stepping through a second doorway brought you into the dining room. Square tables neatly aligned across the room and along the walls. There were about 42 seats, with the larger tables down the center of the room.
I stood in the doorway. To my right was a decorative hutch with stacks of menus. Was this the hostess stand? Do I wait here?
There was one older couple sitting in the corner, across from the hutch. Ahead of me, towards the back of the room near the kitchen, three of the wait staff were leaning behind a register. They had their backs to me, so I started to walk down the room towards them.
“Hello,” one girl finally noticed my presence and stepped out into the middle of the dining room.
“Hi, do I need a reservation to eat in?”
“Does it look like you do? It’s empty.” She meant it as a joke.
I looked around for a spot that was the best for taking photos, but also where I wouldn’t be forgotten. I took the two-top table to my left. “Here’s fine”
At some point I was handed a menu. My glass was filled with water. Another waitress appeared. “Just one?” She asked. She had an accent I couldn’t place.
“Awe.” She cleared away the other table setting. I laughed internally. There’s such a negative stereotype and need for pity if people dine alone, which I completely disagree with. But — that’s a topic for another day. Back to the menu:
Thai Chef’s Menu
The menu was thick and engraved, with laminated pages. Their special appetizers were printed on the first page, on blue construction-style paper, and basic font.
The everyday menu was designed and organized by food type, such as appetizers, salads, soups, noodles, seafood dishes, curry, etc.
When I reviewed Thai Chef’s online menu their recipes caught my eye. Especially when I think about the dishes offered at Khao Tip or Thai Ping. Thai Chef listed items that neither Khao Tip nor Thai Ping offered, so I was excited to try them!
The Thai iced tea is my go-to drink to order. It is rich and sweet with gorgeous colors. Sometimes, restaurants don’t steep their tea long enough (for my taste), and then add too much sugar and milk, and the tea tastes weak.
Thai Chef’s Thai iced tea was delicious. It matched my expectations for Thai iced teas (as set by Khao Tip).
Thai Chef’s iced tea was strong and sweet, but not overdone. This glass was a different shape then I’m used to. I was glad I got to stir the drink myself because as you stir it turns this bright orange color.
“Do you know what you want?” The waitress with the accent asked. (I don’t think I was ever told her name).
“Yes, you’ll be surprised with how much food I eat.” I said. People think I’m joking when order appetizers, entrees, and desserts. “Can I have the curry puff and the Peking duck roll to start?”
“We’re out of the Peking duck roll.”
“Oh-kayyy.” I opened up the menu again. I was hyped about the duck, especially after the great duck I had at Thai Ping.
You know I’m talented at quickly reading menus and making decisions, right?
I was humming and trying to find something that 1.) I actually wanted to eat, and 2.) Was new and unique to share with y’all for this food review.
“I’ll have…the seafood ravioli.”
I have no idea why I picked this, but in the moment, it seemed like a unique dish. The waitress took my order back to the kitchen. I observed the room as I waited for my appetizers.
The Interior | Part 2
The room was clean and decorated well. Each table had a thick cream tablecloth with a square of white paper on top. In the corners, a short seafoam green, ceramic vase was filled with my favorite flowers.
Thai Chef does a good job of bringing in Thai elements, without it being overdone. For instance, to my right, slightly above eye level, was a built-in with a wooden statue. The same built-ins across the room had decorations, and sat next to a ginormous textured painting of three farmers bending among bright green grass.
Appetizers | Part 2
Seafood Ravioli | $9.00
As I waited for the appetizers, another couple came in and took the seat by the front window. They were regulars, as the waitress knew them and asked where they’ve been. They recently came back from Vermont, having spent several weeks up there.
You Say Ravioli, I say Dumpling
Not long after I placed the order, my seafood ravioli arrived. My first thought was that they looked like the Hunan Dumplings from Veggie Heaven. The plate had 8 ravioli in total.
As an Italian, I might be biased but when I hear ravioli, I was expected to see flat, crimped-edged, triangular ravioli.
Thai Chef’s “ravioli” (though I know ravioli are considered a part of the dumpling family), reminded me more of dumplings, Shumai, or of the Golden Bags served at Khao Tip (but before they are fried).
The filling was dense with some texture, which is what made me think of Shumai. The word “shrimp” came to mind when I tried the first one, so I would assume the texture came from a shrimp-based filling.
That shrimp-flavor hinted towards a “seafood” flavor, which wasn’t bad. But I couldn’t distinguish any other seafood or textures in the ravioli (dumpling) filling. Though, there were the crunchy toppings, which I believe were shaved walnuts.
Sweet & Sour Chili Sauce
The sauce that accompanied the seafood ravioli was meh. It was very salty, which is why I believe this was just soy sauce.
After going back to the menu, I see this dish was supposed to come with a sweet and sour chili sauce. This would’ve been perfect, as the chili would’ve bumped up the mellow filling. The sweet and sour flavor would’ve brightened the dish as well.
I finished most of my ravioli, and didn’t feel overly full. You could probably share this dish with another person but it depends on how much you eat.
The Dinnertime Crowd
My plate was cleared and my three remaining ravioli were packed.
A young couple with a toddler arrived and took a circular table in the back of the room. The little girl shrieked as the mother tried to order.
Three orders for takeout were placed. By now, the sun had set and the front sign for Thai Chef lit the sidewalk and foyer.
A couple in their late 40s came in and took the table near the Vermont couple.
Curry Puff | $10
Not long after my plate was cleared, my curry puff appetizer arrived.
I was hyped about these. Curry puffs are my favorite.
The texture and shape of the dough is what made me think they these were homemade.
I cut into it with the edge of my fork first. The inside of the curry puff was burning hot. These must’ve been made fresh-to-order for the inside to be that hot.
What made the dough in this curry puff different from others is that it had a flaky, buttery texture. Almost like pie crust, but not so dense. You can also see the irregular shaped, golden color was from an egg-wash (which also gives some indication that these might be homemade).
I make the assumption that the curry puff filling is homemade, based on the texture and freshness.
I googled curry puff ingredients so I could give you the most accurate description. According to my research the Thai version of a curry puff includes: flaky crust, curry powder, potatoes, a small piece of hard-boiled egg, meat (usually beef or chicken), and onions.
I have no idea if this is 100% what goes into Thai Chef’s curry puff, but they are amazing. I couldn’t taste any hard-boiled egg or meat, but the filling was familiar and flavorful.
My favorite sauce that pairs with curry puffs is the vinegar, cucumber, and pepper. I’m not sure what the dried pepper in this was. At first it appeared to be a dried ball in the sauce, but I chopped it apart with my fork. It reminded me of a sun-dried tomato (in texture), but didn’t really have any spice or flavor, so I’m not too sure what it was.
But the cucumber and vinegar was light and refreshing. I poured the sauce across the top of the curry puffs. I ate the three of them, which were each about the size of an empanada.
By the time I finished my appetizers, a family of five took a center table across from me. The dad of the shrieking baby was now outside, in front of Thai Chef, trying to console her. The Vermont couple was still in the back corner and the older 40-year-old’s were asking about the frying oil. Apparently their son had a peanut allergy.
Since I had arrived to an empty dining room when I first placed my order, I was hesitant about ordering seafood. Also, as this was my first time eating at Thai Chef, I didn’t know what to expect.
I really wanted to order Drunken Noodles, but I didn’t want to have a replica meal of my other favorite Thai restaurants. Of course, I can’t handle the spice in curry so that eliminated those dishes.
So there I was, on the seafood menu, deciding between jumbo shrimp or scallops. I’m not romantic about scallops so I wasn’t sure if I would really be impressed by this dish, but I was.
Sea Scallops in Garlic Sauce | $24
The presentation throughout the meal was lovely.
In the middle on top of the banana leaf were five large scallops. They must’ve been rolled in flour before being pan-fried. They had a light crisp, but not a coating, on the outside. This provided some color, texture, and a way for the garlic sauce to stick to them.
What was memorable about these scallops is that they were tender. They were fresh because they didn’t have that strong seafood flavor.
Sides of Vegetables
Four steamed asparagus stalks were refreshing. They were cooked perfectly – not crunchy like carrots, but not mushy either. There were four cubes of steamed sweet potato, which also might’ve been flash fried to crisp the outside (without becoming soggy or greasy).
The Garlic Sauce
I smelled the garlic sauce when my entrée was first placed in front of me, and I thought: Oh hell, this is going to be spicy.
However, the sauce was fantastic.
As someone who enjoys garlic with every meal, it was a no-brainer to order the garlic sauce instead of the brown sauce. I had no idea what to expect with this sauce, but it was amazing.
Trying to determine what was in the garlic sauce was the difficult part. Of course, I could see the minced pieces of garlic, but they were soft – and cooked for enough time that the dish does not smell of garlic. Instead it had a touch of sweetness plus some spices. It might have had curry or cumin in it.
I asked my waitress what was in it and she just said, “It’s a homemade recipe.” So either it was super obvious that I was a food blogger, or Thai Chef keeps their recipes to themselves.
I could have finished my dinner, since scallops aren’t that filling. But I decided to wrap the remaining scallops, asparagus, and white rice for lunch the next day. (Though, the waitress must’ve started to throw my dish away and then remember that I wanted it wrapped, cause I never got the asparagus).
The waitress with the accent came back, “Do you have room for dessert?”
I guess I have a naturally sarcastic tone because she laughed and started to walk away. “I’ll take a dessert menu.” I clarified.
“You want a dessert menu?” I couldn’t tell if she was surprised or not.
“Yes.” She went back towards the kitchen and arrived with a long, thin menu with a piece of twine tying the pages to the cover. Inside were old paper pages, worn with use. Some prices were covered with white-out and re-written with pen. The last three pages were descriptions of the hot tea you could order.
When I first researched Thai Chef’s menu, I also looked over the dessert options. I knew before I arrived that I wanted the chocolate soufflé. I asked to see the dessert menu anyway so that I could review their presentation and prices. (Their in-restaurant prices are higher than what is listed on their website).
“Did you decide?” The waitress asked.
“I’ll have the chocolate soufflé.”
“Are you sure? That takes 20 minutes.” I remember on the website there was an asterisk near the soufflé which noted its cooking time.
I half glanced at my watch to see what time it was. Was she suggesting that the kitchen didn’t have enough time to prepare it? So I asked, “Do you have time?”
She took the menu and went to the kitchen to place the order.
I don’t know about you, but when I go out to eat, alone or with friends/family, my meals are at least two hours, or up to four (if we are regulars and the restaurant knows us). We’ve been known to close restaurants and finish our coffees and desserts with the chefs or owners.
I was somewhat surprised, that despite the family of five and take-out orders (with two hours left until they close), that the waitress wouldn’t want me to order the most expensive dessert on the menu. I mean, having a table order desserts can add $10-$20 more onto a bill (I would know, I waitressed for a while).
Thai Chef was true to its word. The dessert did take about 20 minutes, but I didn’t mind waiting. The positive of a dessert taking that long is that it is guaranteed to be made-to-order and fresh.
The Chocolate Soufflé | $10
The soufflé arrived in its white ramekin with a small cup of sauce. Before I could take a picture (as per traditional soufflé preparation), the waitress used my knife and hollowed out the whipped cream and soufflé from the center of the ramekin. (The OCD part of me cringed). She poured the chocolate sauce into the middle of the hollowed out cake, over-top the whipped cream, and onto the plate.
Since everything was sort of messy, I ruined the soufflé by starting in the middle. The hot, thinned chocolate sauce (it reminded me of hot chocolate), soaked into the airy chocolate cake. The top and outer edges of the soufflé tasted like a brownie, as they had that crisp top.
I’ve never had a soufflé before, so my description here doesn’t really do it justice. If you never had one, I suggest you do because it is a dessert worth waiting for.
Thai Chef’s soufflé was light and airy (though it didn’t seem as tall as I was expecting it to be). The chocolate was rich and luscious. The cream was refreshing, though melted quickly into the top of the soufflé, since it was hot from the oven.
It was worth the money, and a great dessert if you love chocolate.
A Local Thai Restaurant with Fresh Recipes
Overall this was a satisfying weeknight dinner.
Thai Chef appears to be making their recipes to-order for the best taste. I loved nearly every part of my meal.
I will return to Thai Chef for a weekend meal, to see how they handle a crowded dining room, and if the food stays as hot and fresh as it was for my weeknight meal.
Have you been to Thai Chef before? Are there any other Thai restaurants nearby Denville that I should visit? Comment below with your thoughts!