A fresh coconut filled to the brim with shrimp, chunks of coconut and a rich, creamy broth had been devoured. A tiny paper umbrella that had topped off this coconut paradise tossed aside by a hurricane of hunger.
Drunken noodles would follow, then pad Thai, and something called a pink princess. A culinary dreamscape of rolls — spring, lollipop, and spicy tuna — they were all there.
The bartender’s recommendation of a “vacation in a glass,” a vodka martini with lychee liquor topped with fresh lychee helped wash away the heat of the chilies.
A trip for the senses through Thailand was ending just as other diners were filing in, debating over the seven-page menu and pondering what dish they should go with of the 200 or so offered.
They murmured and took curious glances at other diner’s choices.
Two older women seemed dwarfed by their plates of fried rice.
Ayothaya Thai Café, at 404 E. Highway 260, has been a welcome respite for weary Rim Country diners bored of steak and burritos.
Open since Feb. 1, the restaurant sits in an unremarkable building across from Safeway, its cheery ambiance hidden from motorists zipping down the highway. Inside, an alter of Buddhas, sparkly wall hangings, bright wall hues, grass screens, floral covered tablecloths and wall-mounted dragonheads transport diners away from the pine forests to exotic Thailand.
Owners Phasavee “Mac” Katepratoom and Pannaphat “Man” Katepratoom brought the décor and their knowledge of Thai food from Thailand where they immigrated from nearly a decade ago.
But how does a couple from Thailand end up in the mountain hamlet of Payson?
The couple initially moved from Thailand to Miami where Mac, 48, worked in a kitchen. The pair then moved to Baltimore to help a friend open a restaurant.
After several years, the couple knew they wanted to own their own space and settled on Payson. With no Thai restaurant and beautiful scenery, the couple said they were eager to come and highlight the recipes Mac’s grandmother had taught him.
It took more than a year of work to get the restaurant ready.
Now open more than six months, the couple says the restaurant has exceeded their expectations.
And the food has exceeded most diners’ expectations.
Richard and Marilyn Ippolito were so impressed that they have come back nearly every week. Richard even celebrated his 80th birthday there.
The Ippolitos say the quality food and unobtrusive service is as good as any fine restaurant.
“We sure don’t want to see them go out of business,” they said.
Nearly everything on the menu is cooked fresh, from the dumplings to the crab puffs. Mac makes all sauces from scratch, including a delicious peanut dip that accompanies the spring rolls.
Bartender Brent Whetstone said Mac’s cooking is better than most food in Thailand.
“He is a culinary artist,” he said. “We hear people say that they used to go to the Valley to eat and now their friends come up from the Valley to eat here.”
Fresh ingredients and bold use of spices set Thai food apart.
Mac says lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime, garlic, Thai basil, turmeric, chilies, pepper, meat stock, coconut and cumin are staples in Thai cooking.
But there is a misconception that all Thai food is spicy. Many dishes, including chicken paradise, which is fried chicken smothered in a cream sauce, are not hot.
Many sushi rolls are also on the mild side.
Just a week ago, Ayothaya hired a new sushi chef. DJ Jackson said he has already added several new rolls, including the lollipop roll, which is shaved cucumber, tuna, salmon and avocado rolled and served with skewers to look like lollipops.
With 10 years of sushi experience in the Valley, including at Ra and Sushi 101, Jackson is excited to bring real sushi to the Rim Country.
For more information on Ayothaya, call (928) 474-1112.