I'll admit I snickered when I heard the concept for Esaan. Thai food and . . .
What, in the history of Thai cuisine, connects it to the sweet Italian treat?
Nothing, it turns out, other than the background of this new restaurant's co-owners.
Head chef Jai Delp learned to cook from her mother and aunts in northeast Thailand. She and husband, Sam Delp, lived in Europe for several years and developed a passion for quality gelato. For their first foray into the restaurant business, they decided to combine the two.
"When you eat something hot," Jai explained, "what is better to cool down your palate?"
No argument here.
The homemade gelato and sorbet - available in more than a half-dozen flavors - sets Esaan apart from all other Asian restaurants I've visited. And with Esaan's affordable menu, I didn't mind ponying up another $2.83 for a small cup.
For those unfamiliar, gelato is similar to ice cream, but denser and, I think, more flavorful. One scoop of gelato eats like two scoops of typical ice cream, which has more air whipped into it. I savored every spoonful of the pistachio I ordered on one of the first warm days of spring.
I actually visited Esaan twice - less than a week after it first opened and again almost three weeks later.
The shrimp with Thai basil stir fry I ordered had a pleasant, underlying sweetness, but it failed to feature the basil. The rice and vegetables, though very fresh and crunchy, took over the under-seasoned dish.
I enjoyed my food more on my second visit when I ordered chicken pad Thai.
The fish sauce balanced the sweet but tart taste of tamarind, and a healthy dose of pepper gave it a nice little kick. After squeezing some lime slices from a side dish over my plate of rice noodles, the meal burst with an array of flavors. I couldn't resist cleansing my palate with Donatella gelato, a blend of chocolate and hazelnut flavors.
I suspect this place will continue to improve with first-time restaurateurs Jai and Sam in charge. The two already own a successful woodworking business, where they made all of Esaan's furniture. Starting this week, the Delps plan to expand to dinner hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with full table service, as opposed to the limited service for lunch.
I know I will visit it yet again. If nothing else, it'll be an excuse to try another flavor of gelato.
Cheap Eats is a biweekly column on local restaurants' meals for less than $10. Suggestions are welcome. Reach Wade Malcolm at 771-2101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
LOCATION: Esaan Thai, 30 N. Beaver St. in York
WADE'S PICK: shrimp Thai basil stir fry ($6.75), chicken pad Thai ($6)
PARKING: parking garages, street
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday
PRICE RANGE: $2.95 to $7.50
ACCEPTS: cash and major credit card
KID'S MENU: chicken satay pizza ($6.95), fried rice ($4.50 for tofu or chicken, $5 for shrimp)
DETAILS: 718-9300; www.esaanofpa.com