Columbia SC Dining: Baan Sawan

June 26, 2008

Baan Sawan Thai Bistro
2135 Devine Street, Columbia, SC

Web Site:

I’ve been backlogged for weeks on content — I haven’t even completed my posts on Raleigh and Cape Cod, but I wanted to share with you with what I think is one of the best Thai restaurants I have ever eaten at in my entire life. The crazy thing about it is that it seems to exist in a place where it clearly shouldn’t.

Let me start off again. For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on assignment in the town of Columbia, South Carolina. Suffice to say that Columbia, while it is the largest city in the state and the capital, isn’t exactly the most progressive town in the South from a culinary perspective — it boasts very few quality Asian restaurants — well, let me rephrase that — few quality restaurants, period, and is about as meat and potatoes as you can possibly get. However, it is also the host to the University of South Carolina (USC) which is considered one of the better research universities in the region, so some diamonds do thrive here. The college kids and academicians need good places to eat.

Against all odds, Baan Sawan thrives. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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June 13, 2008

Ah yes, the pleasures of the Thai Yum. When it turns summer and disgustingly hot, and you feel like your energy has been sapped from the oppressive weather, spicy and tangy Asian salads can be a refreshing and satisfying boost — and for the most part, they’re pretty healthy too.

Larb is one of my favorite Thai dishes. Chances are, if I am going to a Thai restaurant for the first time and they have Larb on the menu, its what I am going to be ordering — it’s one of those “benchmark” dishes because its so simple to make. Anyone can make a good Larb at home, because it doesn’t require difficult to obtain ingredients (fish sauce is easy to get these days) or technical skills to prepare. Larb was a huge subject of interest back when I was still involved on eGullet — it was one of those huge monster threads that kept on going, and going. The general rule of thumb is that If it’s a protein, you can larb it. I have to give fellow blogger tommyeats the credit for starting it, it was inspired genius.

Larb, Laab, Larp… doesn’t matter what you call it, let’s eat it! Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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NJ Dining: Pawana (UPDATED)

May 18, 2008

Pawana Restaurant
63 Nathaniel Pl., Englewood NJ 07631

Two years ago, not long after its grand opening, I visited Pawana restaurant in Englewood, and this is what I wrote about it at the time:

Pawana, a new Thai restaurant, has opened in what was the failed Thai Chef space in Englewood in the Shop Rite plaza.

Thai Chef in my opinion was an overrated and expensive restaurant which had poor service and served food I could have better at Wondee’s or Bangkok Garden in Hackensack, the two best known Thai restaurants in the area. They spent a fortune building the space and promoted the hell out the restaurant, but they were never able to get a decent following and the restaurant was frequently mostly empty. Their problems were also compounded by the fact that the restaurant group opened ANOTHER Thai restaurant in the same town almost simultaneously, Kratiem (which is still in business but has different owners now). Thus it failed, and many began to wonder if opening a high-end restaurant in that shopping center was such a hot idea in the first place.

While the new owner, a woman also named Pawana, is related to the Thai Chef company (she’s a cousin) the prices here are scaled back (comparable to Wondee’s or Saigon R in Englewood) the service was very good, and the food is excellent — in fact I’d say it will give both Wondee’s and Bangkok Garden a run for the money.

In the two years after it opened, I only visited the restaurant perhaps one other time. It’s not that the restaurant wasn’t good — as you can see above, at the time I thought it was very good — but at the end of the day I felt that the food at Wondee’s was more to my personal taste in terms of authenticity. Due to the demographic makeup of Englewood versus Hackensack, Pawana is attracting more Americans, whereas Wondee’s attracts more Asians.

Be it as it may, that was then and this is now. My tastes have changed and so have my dining habits. I recently returned to Pawana after a two year hiatus. I honestly have to say “What the hell took me so long?”. If you are willing to tell the server “I want it Thai spicy”, then Pawana will pull out the stops for you and give you a truly Thai experience.

By the way — while the restaurant doesn’t say so on its menu, they serve brown rice if requested. Score one big point for the low-carber crowd.

Main Dining Room — 2008

If you’ve been waiting to try Pawana, you can stop waiting. Run and eat there right away. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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San Jose Dining: Chez Sovan

April 1, 2008

Chez Sovan Cambodian Restaurant
2425 S Bascom Ave
Campbell, CA 95008

As I discussed in my earlier post about Cambodian food at Phnom Penh in Cleveland, I’m a freak for spicy and exotic stuff. A local buddy of mine suggested that while I was in town I check out the San Jose equivalent to Phnom Penh, Chez Sovan in nearby Campbell.

Cheryl and I finished our day of Project Management 101 drudgery at our Morgan Hill Training center, leaving the cows grazing in the parking lot and headed up the highway to the San Jose/Campbell area. San Jose has a ton of Asian restaurants, particularly Thai and Vietnamese, but Chez Sovan has the distinction of being the only Cambodian in town.

Restaurant entrance

Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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