NAPLES — Ask L’Orient chef Eddy Thretipthuangsin what kind of restaurant he operates, and the answer may surprise you.
Sure, L’Orient is a fine dining Asian restaurant. But to owners Eddy, his brother, Chris, and their mother, Pat Thretipthuangsin, it’s more about family than anything else. L’Orient opened a few weeks ago at Naples Bay Resort, and the family believes it will be a unique experience for people who have never tried fine Asian cuisine.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
The point of fine dining is obvious at L’Orient, but not for the reasons you might think. The emphasis on “fine” revolves around how the Thretipthuangsins view diners. Compared to most family restaurants, how they feed friends and family is just a tad higher than the typical biscuits and gravy at the kitchen table.
Eddy Thretipthuangsin (pronounced three-tip-WHANG-sin) became a classically trained graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. Last year, he was recognized by one of the culinary world’s most prestigious organizations, the James Beard Foundation.
His brother, Chris Thretipthuangsin, is at the helm of L’Orient and another successful restaurant in the wealthy Hamptons on Long Island, N.Y., and is the brainchild behind L’Orient’s unique cocktail menu.
Pat is a veteran chef who was chosen as special guest chef for the royal family of Thailand. She was the guest chef for the princess of Thailand and her entourage.
“The princess used to call and ask, ‘Miss Pat, what are you cooking tonight?’ and I always made extra,” she said.
In fact, Eddy said he owes his sophisticated palate to his mother. He got his start in the food business washing dishes in his mother’s restaurant during high school.
“My mom has a very delicate palate and she would tell us to try something and ask us what we tasted,” he said. “We all have the same simple vision with L’Orient, and that is how we can make our guests happy and we want people to say ‘wow!’ when they see, smell and taste their food.”
If you go
Where: 1500 Fifth Ave. S. (Naples Bay Resort, on the south side of the Gordon River), Naples
When: Lunch, noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; dinner, 4 to10 p.m. seven days a week
Information: 239-530-5110 or www.LOrientNaples.com
In addition to her biological sons, Pat claims all members of the L’Orient family — customers and staff. L’Orient Chef de Cuisine Anikul Hampton and Eddy have been close friends for years.
The Thretipthuangsin family is down-to-earth and quick to smile for restaurateurs who have become accustomed to celebrity chefs standing in line for a table at their East Hampton digs. And with their new Naples location, the family has turned their sights on making L’Orient a locals’ favorite year-round. Their happy hour is already busy with permanent residents.
“I’m your neighbor, too, and I’m looking forward to people coming in, relaxing — I want to feed them what we as a family enjoy and that means sharing our cuisine with them,” Pat said.
CUISINE AND COCKTAILS
L’Orient is the first of its kind in Naples. For starters, it’s not Asian fusion.
“Traditional Asian fusion is the blending of flavors, which is not what we do — we are focused on traditional Asian cuisine — not just Thai, not just Chinese, but all of the Asian flavors,” Eddy said. “We’re doing traditional Asian cuisine but using classic French techniques and presentation to prepare it.”
Popular starters include the curry puff, ($8.90), which is filled with chicken, tomato, potato, cilantro and onion. It’s served with cucumber salad. The sieu mai, or steamed wonton, ($8.90) is prepared with pork and shrimp, mushroom, bamboo shoot and crispy garlic-soy jus.
The stars of the appetizer menu are the braised pork belly ($10.90) and shrimp thom yum ($15.90) prepared for two people with Thai herbs, hot and sour lemongrass broth, shrimp, wild mushrooms and cilantro. A side of Asian slaw ($7.90) consists of both red and white Napa cabbage, carrot, red onion and sesame soy dressing. The chilled soba noodle salad ($8.90) is a surprise — totally light, despite toasted sesame and Thai peanut dressing which can be heavy. The pad thai noodle side dish ($9) is a must-try with Thai street-style rice noodles, egg, sprouts and scallions.
One of the more surprising entrees includes the General Tao’s chicken ($17), which one might not expect to find on a fine Asian dining menu. As the brothers brainstormed about the new menu, Chris suggested it as a challenge for his brother to create something spectacular with the less-exalted Asian dish.
“At 3 a.m., I woke myself up thinking about how I was going to create a General Tao’s chicken dish worthy of L’Orient menu and eventually put three dishes together which we all tasted,” Eddy said. What resulted was crispy chicken paillard tenders sautéed with tamarind reduction glaze. For the fragrant lemongrass bouillabaisse ($36), he simmers seasonal assorted seafood in a tomato- lemongrass broth. His braised short ribs ($32) cook for hours — and a specialty is the massaman curry preparation, served in a sauce of Thai massaman curry, roasted peanut, sweet potato and onion.
Eddy also prepares a five-spice duck dish ($32) with star anise-port wine reduction and seasonal vegetables.
It’s almost a sin to leave L’Orient without trying a specialty cocktail concocted by Chris. The cocktail menu is based on the Chinese zodiac. Half the fun of choosing L’Orient cocktails is in the educational selection.
For example, if you were born in the years 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971 or 1983, you might want to try the “pig” cocktail of orange vodka, cranberry and lime. You can read about your signs on the cocktail menu. For example, “pigs” are said to be optimistic, intellectually curious, honest and tolerant.
People born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970 or 1982 fall under the “dog” distinction and could enjoy the rum, pomegranate, mint and lime concoction. “Dogs” are said to be loyal, faithful and true.
Pat is largely responsible for L’Orient’s almost therapeutic décor.
Walls and columns are profusely appointed with soothing Asian artwork and Buddhas keep a careful watch over the restaurant from many vantage points. At the chef’s table, a sand tray is the centerpiece and reflective decorative items lend a casual, yet edgy, vibe throughout the space.
Oranges and patterned booths give the space depth. Not that it’s needed — the restaurant is large enough to have two entrances along Naples Bay. All the better for the Thretiphuangsins to welcome their new “family.”