Food is love. Just ask Chef Aom Srisuk, who last month opened his Thai restaurant Pomelo, a welcoming haven of light and spice that exists thanks to a love affair.
The story begins in 2000, when romance blossomed in the city of Ayutthaya, once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Thailand. Frankie Weinberg, an American student teaching English in Thailand, met Srisuk, who worked in his family’s restaurant. They got to know each other around plates of glass noodles and shrimp, bowls of rice and green curry. They fell in love. But over time, the constraints of being 9,000 miles apart and the demands of their separate daily lives took a toll on their romance.
Fast forward 17 years, and Weinberg, then 44 and a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, decided to return to Thailand on sabbatical. “I figured I’d go see if Aom was around, maybe have coffee with her.” “
The couple had not spoken since they separated. But they were both single.
“When I found Frankie, from day one, I always felt like I knew the same person,” says Srisuk, now 41. “We quickly reconnected. I was so young when we first met, going to school, working in my family businesses. I was not ready to get married or come to America.
Srisuk had spent 17 years cooking at his family’s restaurants, which included Japanese and Thai cafes in Bangkok. After spending six months together, she was ready to come to New Orleans.
“I felt ready to take the next step in my life,” she says. “I was tired of being alone in Thailand. It’s nice to have someone by your side who loves you.
She came to New Orleans, extending her love affair to the city. Much to the delight of his family, especially his mother, the couple married in December 2018 and moved to Uptown.
Srisuk started working in both back-of-house and front-of-house jobs at BRG Hospitality and Saffron NOLA restaurants. But her goal has always been to open a place for her. Named after grapefruit-like citrus fruits native to Southeast Asia, Pomelo is Srisuk’s baby, a place to serve traditional Thai cuisine based on his family recipes and showcase Thai hospitality. It is an intimate cafe with a small dining area and a few tables outside. Weinberg helped develop the online ordering site and now handles social media and marketing for the company.
Srisuk has put together a menu that includes familiar noodle and curry dishes as well as specialties that speak more to mainstream Thai street food. A recent specialty, pok pok noodles, is a dish cooked by street vendors who roll around a neighborhood and announce their presence by banging two large wooden sticks together to entice customers. It includes a generous serving of chewy glass noodles with roasted pork shoulder, shrimp, baby bok choy, peanuts and chili.
Although its flavors are familiar, there are also some surprising ingredients. Its green curry contains a rich coconut broth sprinkled with tender enoki mushrooms and crispy sweet corn kernels, along with Chinese eggplant and broccoli, all topped with a generous slice of grilled salmon. The Krapaw Eggplant is sautéed with ground pork, spices, chili, garlic, and lots of slightly sweet Thai basil.
Chicken massaman, a popular curry in southern Thailand, combines a chicken thigh with chunks of potatoes, onion and peanuts in a broth flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and a hint of ‘star anise. Laab, a dish native to northeastern Thailand near Laos, uses pieces of dry-roasted rice for a crispy texture in a ground pork salad full of vegetables, spices, and herbs. A mango and shrimp salad is bright with cilantro, onion, lime and mint. Som Yam soup delivers the punch of sour and sweet flavor that distinguishes so many Thai dishes. The restaurant is BYOB, with no immediate plans to add alcohol to the mix.
Srisuk has happily settled into New Orleans life, little disturbed by the summer heat which is all too familiar to her from Thailand. “It’s different, but I’m happier here with Frankie,” she said.
She also likes to share her food with neighbors.
“For now, I want to bring out the true flavor of our food,” Srisuk says. “In the future, I may make dishes that are a little more modern.
4113 Magazine Street, (504) 442-9570
Lunch Friday-Sunday, dinner Wednesday-Sunday
Dinner on site, take out, delivery and limited outdoor seating