Fresh, flavorful Thai cuisine
Friday - May 09, 2008
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In an industry where staff turnover is high,Keo’s Thai Cuisine is something of an anomaly. Open for more than three decades, the popular Thai restaurant has staff members who’ve been there since day one.
“Our cook, Urai Gamiao, has been with us for 31 years,” says owner Keo Sananikone,“and many more of our employees have spent their entire careers with us.“It says something about the man who is credited with bringing the first taste of Thai food to Hawaii.
If you haven’t been to Keo’s in Waikiki or sister restaurant Keoni’s, the service and the décor are the two things that stand out as soon as you walk in. Keo graduated in architecture from the University of Washington, and the interior of his restaurant exudes style and beauty.From flower arrangements as tall as small trees,to life-size bronze statues, Keo’s artistic touch is everywhere, including in the kitchen.
The menu has a number of Thai staples - the kind you’ll find in most Thai restaurants, but Keo’s offers a more adventurous taste of Thai dining.“We grow as much of our own fruits and vegetables as we can,” says Keo. “It’s one way we ensure that no pesticides are used on our herbs or fruits.“Twice a week he heads into Honolulu with a truckload of fresh flowers and produce that may include mint,basil, kaffir lime leaves,limes and lemons, jackfruit, mango and sweet basil.
Keo learned to cook as a teenager, and soon realized that Thai food was a huge hit with American palates.
“I missed the food of my home very much,“he says of the years he spent in California at boarding school. “So I would cook for the dorm parents and my classmates and for host families when I went to their homes.“When he came to Hawaii in the late 1970s, there was an obvious need for a good-quality Thai restaurant.
“There was only one Thai restaurant in Honolulu,” he says.“It was very good, but it was so small and only run by one or two people. I thought that Hawaii was so multicultural that the people here would enjoy Thai food - and a nice dining environment.“He opened in 1977 and became an immediate hit with both locals and tourists, including a host of celebrities.
Appetizers include gorgeous fresh summer rolls filled with the herbs, and do order the deliciously plump and tasty Spring Rolls ($7.95) that come with fresh herbs, lettuce leaves and a sweetly sour dipping sauce.They’re some of the best examples of their kind. Evil Jungle Prince is Keo’s most famous dish and it comes with seafood, shrimp or chicken tossed in a slightly sweet sauce made with coconut milk and chili peppers. The Penang Curry ($15.95) is to Thai cuisine what Chicken Tikka Masala is to Indian food,and has been a best-selling dish for more than 30 years.In Keo’s version, the flavors of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves add a piquant note while coconut milk and chili add sweetness and heat.
This weekend Keo’s offers a Mother’s Day menu that features some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.
The set dinner ($27.95 per person) offers appetizers of crispy noodles and spring rolls followed by a green papaya salad. Entrees include Panang seafood curry and the restaurant’s tender,sweet barbecued spare ribs. There’s duck breast with plum sauce,eggplant with fish, cashew nuts with chicken,and spicy sweet and sour seafood with vegetables, as well as a selection of rice - and a rose for every mom. The Mother’s Day menu is available at both Keo’s and Keoni’s, with valet parking at Keo’s and validated parking at Keoni’s.
Keo’s Waikiki 2028 Kuhio Ave. 951-9355
Keoni’s By Keo’s 2375 Kuhio Ave. 922-9888
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