If you were to have been lucky enough to walk into the home of Da Detoro in Thailand, when she was a child, you would have heard nothing but a steady pounding. It was the sound of women making curry paste with chili peppers and muscle power.
“I grew up with my great grandmother,” she said. “She was a very traditional Thai. Every day, I had to get up at 4 a.m. and walk to the market. My friends would go to the market and buy curry paste, but she said we weren’t allowed to do that. She was very strict. She had the old traditional technique.”
She was so strict, the young Detoro wasn’t allowed to switch hands when her arm got tired.
“I would ask why, and she would say, ‘that’s the old way,’” Detoro recalls.
A few decades later and thousands of miles away, Detoro still makes Thai food the old way. She now has a staff of 10 cooks working for her and a fully equipped kitchen to play with at Da’s Kitchen at 21 East Broad Street in Hopewell. She’s experimenting with her new equipment, and adding American-Thai fusion items to the menu, but she still finds that often, the old ways are the best.
For example, a customer who orders barbecued fish from Da’s shouldn’t expect it to come in an aluminum wrapper. Instead, it will be in a banana leaf, just how Detoro learned to do it growing up.
Da’s Kitchen was a popular eatery located at the Princeton YMCA before it closed in July 2010. Detoro re-opened the restaurant in November with business partner Clark Reed, who owns the building and runs the front of the house in addition to being a landlord.
The fully equipped kitchen in Hopewell includes a 10-burner gas stove, a deep fryer and other tools Detoro uses to tinker with traditional Thai recipes.
Though Detoro built up a huge fanbase at her Y location, and returning fans will find much of the menu unchanged, some of the items will be unfamiliar to those who haven’t stopped by in the last six months. Dishes like the crispy duck, which is simmered in spices, deboned, dusted with more spices, deep fried and served with ginger soy sauce over steamed vegetables, were impossible to make in the old kitchen. Same goes for the spring rolls, which are also deep fried.
The kitchen is open to the dining room, both physically and metaphorically. Detoro likes to get to know her customers, and those who belly up to the sushi bar are liable to be asked to sample her latest off-menu creations.
“I like to get to know all the customers and get friendly with them,” Detoro said. “A lot of my new dishes are based on customers’ requests.”
Reed said some of Detoro’s best customers come in and ask her to make them whatever she feels like, regardless of the menu.
“It’s fun for her, and it’s fun for the customer,” Reed said. “It really is an interactive type of situation.”
Da’s will get more interactive soon, when Detoro begins offering cooking classes. The restaurant is a collaboration between business partners Reed and Detoro.
The dining room is decorated with photos and artwork that Reed’s mother, Jeri Brown, brought back from Thailand in her many travels there. Reed said the restaurant is improving all the time, as they learn the business more. He said local customers have made Da’s a hit, and they recently celebrated their busiest Sunday ever.
“It’s wonderful how the community has accepted us,” Reed said. “It’s been really really busy. Opening a restaurant is like being shot out of a cannon.”
Da’s Kitchen is at 21 East Broad Street in Hopewell Borough. Phone: (609) 466-8424. On the Web: da-kitchen.com.