NOA Wonder

NOA Wonder

New downtown Thai place NOA is both solid and dreamy, with neat wire chairs, a ceiling of floating umbrellas, pulsing loungey house music and nightlife-style lighting animating a cavernous space. Beams and sweeps of the light dance and disperse like sun shimmering off grotto water or cascading through gaps in a cave wall. A bright red “NOA” sign, laser-thin and heliocentric, hangs above the middle of the bar, and a life-sized Thai Buddha glows golden in back.

Even without the tasty lounge vibes, “noa,” a word co-owner Winyu Seetamyae borrowed from his hometown outside Bangkok, would mean “delicious”—as in delicious food and drink not entirely unlike the kinds diners have come to expect from NOA’s older East Rock sister, September in Bangkok. The main difference between the menus, Seetamyae says, is that the culinary style at NOA leans away from Bangkok and toward the bilingual Thai countryside he grew up in, where coconuts are harder to come by and food is less sweet, more spicy.

Spicy indeed was the Larb, a regionally popular dish in Thailand and the national dish of neighboring Laos in part because of its ability to “refresh” and “wake people up” in a hot climate, Seetamyae says. Ordering it in the form of the Larb Tofu ($12), I soon discovered that “spicy” hardly begins to describe it. The flavors—hot, sweet, sour, herbal, acidic, savory and salty, refreshed now and then by a surprisingly useful pile of iceberg lettuce and radish wedges—blew outward in all directions. Diverse and, in the case of gritty “ground roasted rice” bits, challenging textures only intensified each bite.

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Rather than exploding, the flavors of the Lychee + Melon Salad ($13), which Seetamyae describes as a nontraditional “fusion” dish, tended to bond and resolve together, the exception being large fleshy pearls of sweet lychee. The cherry tomatoes felt superfluous—the lychee alone was juicy enough—but everything else, from small slivers of honeydew to crescents of red onion, quiet notes of citrus to coconut and salt, leaves of cilantro to crispy fried shallots, made meaningful contributions.

For my main dish, I ordered the White Curry ($16), which initially stood out both for its novelty and its price point (about $10 lower than the median entree). The dish’s coconut-based broth, elevated by lemongrass and galangal, was the major source of flavor and might be good enough to make your eyes roll back. I could have been happy all night with just the broth and a pile of rice, but of course there was more in play: slices of supple tofu, simple pieces of cauliflower, cross-sections of lotus root, shards of cucumber, a functional garnish of fresh cilantro and radish and, finally, a drizzle of basil oil over the top. The visual effect of various white shapes emerging from a white plane was striking, and the tofu and broth were happily wedded, their textures just different enough to register as delightful and deliberate.

Seetamyae says he’s personally responsible for NOA’s food and drink menus (including lunch and dinner specials) as well as its interior design. More than that, he manages most if not all of the restaurant’s many day-to-day activities. Which is fine by him. “My goal is… to do what I love to do,” he says, “and this is what I love to do.”

200 Crown St, New Haven (map)
(475) 238-6290

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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