Chew Haven’s restaurant visits aim to compile and share impressions of the food, the ambience, and the stories behind local restaurants. On our recent visit to September in Bangkok (established in September 2018, located on State Street approximately twenty minute walking distance from Central Campus), we had the pleasure of enjoying a fabulous dinner and an illuminating conversation with the owner: Winyu S. In line with our policy of having one of our beloved readers share our meal experiences, we were accompanied on this visit by Herman Peng (a sophomore at Yale from San Francisco, California). Win shared with us an extraordinary personal story, beginning from his immigration from Thailand and ending with the establishment and operation of his own flourishing restaurant in New Haven. If you’re awaiting a discussion of the fabulous food and drinks we sampled, scroll on down — before we get to that, however, we’d love to sketch out Win’s (and his restaurant’s) story!
An immigrant from Thailand, Win first arrived at New York City around twenty years ago. He worked at various Thai and Japanese restaurants for 16 years, adding to the repertoire of culinary skills he had first acquired while growing up in his hometown in Northeast Thailand. After his stint at a Thai restaurant near Columbia University, quite popular amongst students there, Win decided to bring his own dreams and ideas to life. His choice of New Haven as a location for his first restaurant was actually motivated by his desire to be near Yale: following his time at the restaurant near Columbia, he wished to continue serving his best to college students and the academia associated clientele.
Despite its youth (September in Bangkok turned one just last month!), the establishment already rubs shoulders with far older New Haven establishments as a prime option for eating out, event catering, and even take-out. According to a rough estimate by the owner, September in Bangkok has been successful in cultivating a following amongst Yale affiliates through word of mouth alone: more than half the regulars are undergraduates, graduates, or faculty at the university. The restaurant owes its rapid ascent to success to the continuous strive for improvement exemplified by Win, who founded his own restaurant after being disappointed by the mundane homogeneity of most Thai restaurants in America. The often one-dimensional flavouring, the overuse of sweet notes with the spicy, the sparse attention to building a congenial dining atmosphere, and the small variety of dishes offered (relative to the massive number of Thai dishes that Win grew up eating in Thailand) were some common features that Win criticized in generic Thai restaurant offerings, and hoped to overcome with his own venture.
We reached the restaurant at a quieter hour, pretty early on a weekday evening. The turning season brought with it a chilly evening, so we opted to sit indoors instead of at one of the many tables in the spacious enclosure attached to the restaurant. We were shown to our seats promptly by Win himself, who maintains a proud involvement in every aspect of running his restaurant — from the interior design of the restaurant to the training of the staff, he does it all!
We were quite impressed by the aesthetics and the ambience, and our compliments prompted Win to share that every single aspect of the interior design was actually designed and built to his own specifications — a beautiful antique lamp shade from his own bedroom is out on display in one wing of the restaurant, while the framed photographs adorning the walls are taken on his iPhone.
We began our evening with three cocktails which were just as delicious as they were beautiful: Saturday (Luxardo maraschino, Stolicknaya orange, mangosteen, lime, & ginerdine), Sexember (Tito’s vodka, Florente elderflower, mangosteen, blue tea, egg white, sour mix), and Bla bla bla (Kiwi, Galliano, peach bourbon, lemon, Prosecco). All three of these drinks were unique insofar as they follow no regular cocktail recipe: like most of the restaurant, they are simply a product of Win’s inspiration.
Saturday was the prettiest drink, with its ornamental blue flower and its subtle shades of glowing pink emanating from a wide martini glass — don’t let looks deceive, however, for it was also the strongest of the three drinks and had a mouthfeel similar to straight liquor.
Bla Bla Bla perhaps owes its name to its sweet mildness and its congenial aftertaste, as the mixture of sparkling Prosecco with tropical fruity flavorings lent it a simple effervescent nature not too dissimilar to a sparkling fruit juice.
Sexember, a purple-pink drink with white foam on top, was somewhere in between the two with regard to alcohol content and sweetness: not very strong, and not very weak. One of the autobiographical details September in Bangkok’s owner sprinkles throughout the menu can be found here — the Saturday cocktail is named so because it was the day of Win’s birth.
First up on our food line up was Crab Rangoon (a crisp dumpling appetizer stuffed with sweet & sour cream cheese and crab meat). The crunchy outside of the wonton was perfectly complemented by the melt in the mouth cream cheese filling on the inside, and the generously apportioned chunks of fresh crab meat elevated the starter to one of our favorite dumplings in town!
Next up was a dish native to Kim’s (Win’s restaurant partner) home region in Burma [Myanmar], something Win believes isn’t available anywhere else in Connecticut: Tea Leaf Salad. As the name suggests, this salad primarily features tea leaves, with lemon sesame flavoring and peanuts for added crunch. Light and crunchy, with complex flavors from the interplay between the tea’s bitter tannins and the lemon’s citric acid, this dish was our guest reviewer’s favorite dish of the bunch. Tea leaf salad is a perfect example of how September in Bangkok can take a simple food item like salad, and elevate it to an extremely delicious and unique product.
After our light bites on the salad, we were served another one of Win’s specials, a plate to feed a family: the Crispy Garlic Prawns. The plate was almost overflowing with freshly fried King Prawns, which were served on a salad with sesame dressing. The prawn flesh was moist, medium-firm, delicious and buttery — easily mistakable for lobster — while the garlic fried crust was bursting with flavor. In just a couple of minutes, all the prawns were gone and we dug into the salad (with sesame dressing and a variety of fresh ingredients) bedding the prawns. Honestly, we feel this salad could have been a special dish in its own right.
As our readers by now probably know, the new Chew Haven team absolutely loves mushrooms. After hearing from Win that mushroom and tofu are in fact two of September in Bangkok’s specialties (‘the best tofu in town’), we were eagerly anticipating the arrival of one of the specials Win mentioned we’d be sampling: Mushroom Curry. Served with their special blue rice, this vegetarian plate of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, basil, eggplant, and zucchini more than lived up to our expectations with its blend of classic Thai curry and umami-rich mushrooms.
The final main dish was Gra-Pow Kai Do (minced pork, Chinese broccoli, fried egg, and hot Thai basil sauce). It was the spiciest dish we sampled, strong and biting without being overpowering. Once we mixed the disparate portions of the dish together, the spice mildened somewhat and we could better appreciate the subtler flavours of the dish. The minced pork and fried egg went well together, with a pleasing texture, and the basil sauce was a good accompaniment.
We finished our meal with a delicious dessert offering: Jasmine Essence Crème Brûlée. The rich custard base contrasted well with the texturally contrasting layer of hardened caramelized sugar, and the ornamental flower made this yet another photogenic dish. The jasmine notes suffused the crème brûlée, each little spoonful bringing to mind a rich jasmine tea or a sniff of the fresh flowers themselves.
From each dish we tasted to every one of Win’s invaluable stories, all the facets of our visit to September in Bangkok were memorable. It’s possible to experience with every sense how passionate and excited Win is — not just about the food he serves, but also about the full experience his restaurant promises his guests. Make sure to pay a visit to State Street and experience September in Bangkok for yourself!
P.S. The menu features many vegetarian, gluten-free, and nut-free items and you can also inform your waiter about your specific allergies and ask for substitutes!