Soup sleuth, Part IV: Papaya - PHOTOS
blog by Thea Tio • November 21, 2013 @ 10:27am
Papaya co-owner and chef Tai Truong knew his passion didn’t lie in the corporate world but dwelt in the depths of the kitchen.
“It wasn’t me,” Truong said of his foray into the business world. “I missed cooking and being in restaurants.”
Growing up in the food industry, Truong learned the ropes from his parents who run Saigon Bangkok on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Tonawanda.
Papaya’s three owners have their business down to a system. “Tri Lam runs the front, Manh Le and I run the back,” said Truong.
They describe their cuisine as Fine Contemporary Asian.
“We take a little bit from Southeast Asia to Japan and Korea. We’ll take the traditional protein, like a New York strip steak, and we marinate it in our Asian-style seasoning, grill it and then we’ll finish it off with some spicy vegetables with Thai basil. So that has a little continental American flair with an Asian influence to it,” Truong said.
“We offer onion rings, but instead of the traditional breading we use Japanese tempura batter and put those on top of the steak. Just a lot of East and West that meets together,” he added.
The Tom Khar Gai (Chicken Coconut Soup) is the perfect example of East meeting West.
The coconut does two things; creates a velvety texture and the tropical fruit’s creaminess cuts the spiciness and tart flavor of the soup.
You can sniff the aroma of the basil leaves, while red chili oil floats on top. The Tom Khar Gai rotates as a special at the restaurant.
If you’re a seafood lover, the Spicy Korean Seafood Stew is what you’ll want to order. Shrimp, squid, mussels and silk tofu all sit in a spicy kimchi broth, garnished with scallions. The heat level is totally up to you, as the kitchen will adjust it to your delight. Served daily for $6—the price for all of Papaya’s soups—you get a lot for your money with this bowl.
Also offered daily is the Tom Yum Goong, a Thai version of Hot and Sour Soup.
“Anyone who knows Thai food, knows Tom Yum,” said Truong of his personal favorite. “It’s hearty, something comforting and warm for the winter here. On a cold day you want a hot, nice aroma. [It] cleans your sinuses out.”
Tom Yum Goong has oysters, shrimp, lemongrass, galangal ginger, lime leaves, Thai basil and is topped with chili oil. King oyster mushrooms and a single red chili are also delicately placed into the mix.
Did you know there are variations of wonton soup based on culture? Truong explained the difference between the Vietnamese version of wonton soup offered at Papaya compared to the Chinese recipe.
“The Chinese style is thick in skin, light in meat. Ours is the opposite. The wonton is real thin,” he said.
The broth for Papaya’s Wonton Soup is fresh, made daily along with the pork filling and wonton wrappers. The soup is garnished with crispy shallots, cilantro, scallions and a little sesame oil. Flavor from the crispy shallots and sesame oil sets this soup apart from other wonton soups.
Also on rotation at Papaya are a Thai Mussel Soup, Vietnamese Pho and an Asian-Style Lobster Bisque.
“We do a lot of lobster surf-and-turf specials here. The fish is flown in from Hawaii and I’ll take the extra lobster heads and make a bisque out of it,” said Truong.
Around the Thanksgiving holiday, the restaurant offers a Squash Soup. But instead of a traditional butternut squash, they’ll use a Japanese Kabocha squash.
“We still do a chicken base, puree the squash and add a coconut flavor along with a crispy shallot garnish. It’s seasonal, it’s special,” he said.