Hong Thaimee — the celebrated chef who is perhaps best known for the former hit East Village Thai destination Ngam — is making a New York City comeback in a big way. On Wednesday, she will debut Thaimee Love, a new pop-up restaurant and lifestyle brand in the West Village, at 615 Hudson Street, between Jane and West 12th Streets.
The focus here is homestyle Thai cooking, Thaimee says, and for the opening month she’s highlighting some of her family recipes. That includes her grandmother’s take on khao yum, a rainbow-colored rice salad dish composed of shredded vegetables and toasted coconut, among other ingredients. Thaimee is also partial to the son-in-law eggs, a Thai staple that the chef prepares with eggs that are cooked sous-vide, then fried, and topped with a caramelized tamarind sauce. And she’s particularly excited about serving both her tom yum and tom kha soups, the latter of which packs a triple coconut punch by using the fruit’s water, milk, and meat.
Each month during the six-month-long pop-up, Thaimee will also showcase foods from different regions across Thailand with themed menus that have names like “Thai temple and holiday fairs,” and “honeymoon in Thailand,” with dishes like the Chiang Mai-style pork laab with coconut and sesame sticky rice and a whole fried trout with crispy turmeric and garlic.
But it doesn’t stop with the food. At Thaimee Love, the chef will also debut a multi-pronged lifestyle brand that includes a Thai food product line, meal kits and virtual cooking classes, and digital travel guides highlighting different parts of Thailand.
To kick things off, the pop-up will have a retail section selling pantry items like the laab seasoning, a Northern Thai staple made up of 13 spices and herbs like lemongrass and galangal that can be used to season meats and vegetables; a Thai tea powder that can be used to make drinks like Thai iced tea and cha dum yen, black tea typically served with lime or fruits; and a pad kee mao sauce to make drunken noodles. Thaimee plans to add several more items to this line next year including curry pastes and a khao soi kit.
Thaimee has also partnered with upstate New York farm Heermance to grow Thai ingredients like Thai basil and banana chiles that will not only be used in the food served at the restaurant but also the meal kits that Thaimee has created in collaboration with the hospitality platform Table22. These meal kits are offered at different price points and on a monthly or quarterly basis and include fresh ingredients, recipes, and depending on the membership, a live Zoom cooking class with Thaimee.
While the pandemic has put a stop to travel for the most part, Thaimee is also working on creating several digital food and travel guides to Thailand that will live on the website, and have come out of friends and customers reaching out to her over the years for restaurant and trip recommendations to the country she was born in, and visited frequently before the pandemic.
The opening of Thaimee Love marks a year-long effort to rebuild the confidence the chef lost after closing the Ngam space in May 2019, after initially renaming the restaurant Thaimee Table earlier that year.
“I did not know how to handle the pain when I closed the doors on that restaurant,” says Thaimee. “But then I started to get emails from customers, messages on Instagram asking me to reopen. It made me realize I had taken the loss the wrong way, that pain is part of this journey, and that I had gained so much from that experience.”
After closing her restaurant, Thaimee spent several months traveling through Thailand and different parts of the world hosting pop-ups and collaborations with different chefs before returning to the city just before the pandemic. When the restaurant shutdowns began in March, and Thaimee witnessed the devastating impact of the virus on the hospitality industry, including the death of her friend Floyd Cardoz, Thaimee says the need to do something took on a greater urgency.
“It made me realize that I need to do something in honor of everyone we’ve lost,” says Thaimee. “COVID helped me see that I need to make every single day count.”
To that effect, part of the proceeds from her new restaurant and lifestyle brand will go to organizations including City Harvest, the AIDS charity RED, and restaurant relief organization ROAR.
For now, the restaurant seats six people outside, and 20 people inside at socially distanced tables due to the restrictions on indoor dining. Delivery and takeout will be a major component of the restaurant Thaimee says, and the establishment will be open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and for dinner on the same days from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The pop-up is set to run through the end of May next year.
“I’m very hopeful we can keep this going beyond the pop-up,” says Thaimee.