More than meets the Thai: Chimm specializes in Southeast Asian street food

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Chimm Thai & Southeast Asian restaurant, located at 5th Street Station and co-owned by Jay Pun (left) offers a wide variety of Thai dishes, all served with chef Nui Thamkaneaw’s (right) homemade sauces. Photo by John Robinson Chimm Thai & Southeast Asian restaurant, located at 5th Street Station and co-owned by Jay Pun (left) offers a wide variety of Thai dishes, all served with chef Nui Thamkaneaw’s (right) homemade sauces. Photo by John Robinson

For Nui Thamkankeaw, part of the fun of being a chef is making every component that goes on the plate, down to the sauces and the curry pastes.

“If you’re a real chef, you really want to get into it,” says Thamkankeaw, executive chef at Chimm Thai & Southeast Asian restaurant, who spoke with C-VILLE through a translator. He grew up in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, and worked in the hotel restaurant industry in Bangkok for years before coming to the U.S. two decades ago.

Chimm, which opened May 23 between The Yard food hall and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at 5th Street Station, is a sister restaurant to the Thai Cuisine & Noodle House on Commonwealth Drive, co-owned by musician and educator Jay Pun, his software engineer aunt Pim Little and his retired physician dad Pong Punyanitya. They worked with Thamkankeaw years ago, at their previous restaurant, Thai!, one of the first Thai restaurants in town (there are now more than a dozen.)

“There’s so much more Thai food than what people see” in most Thai restaurants in the U.S., says Pun, which is why they’ve focused Chimm’s menu on Thai street food in the hopes of giving Charlottesville a wider taste for Thai cuisine.

Thamkankeaw and Punyanitya explain that Thailand is full of food court-type places where dozens of stands and carts, each specializing in a different type of dish, offer an astounding variety of food.

In addition to the familiar curry dishes, pad Thai and fried rices, Chimm’s offerings include an extensive variety of starters such as chicken satay, skewered meatballs and grilled pork, all of which pair well with the ramekins full of Thamkankeaw’s fresh sauces that a server delivers to the table so they can be enjoyed with any dish. There’s a steamed dumpling stuffed with ground pork, crab and water chestnut served with a ginger soy sauce; salads, including laab, a ground meat or tofu salad in a spicy lime dressing with red onions and ground toasted rice; soups, noodle bowls and classic pho of the beef, chicken and vegetable/vegetable broth varieties. Thamkankeaw will offer daily specials, too, and they’ll be a tad more expensive than the other dishes on the menu, which run between $3 and about $15.

So, which dishes are Chimm’s owners and chef particularly excited for? Pun’s a pho and Thai noodle bowl fan, and Thamkankeaw recommends the khao soi and crispy duck (he loves duck and roasts his own in-house), while Punyanitya’s fond of the wonton soup—so much so that he eats it almost daily for lunch.

Rocket fuel

A new coffee shop has opened at the busy intersection of Route 250 and Crozet Avenue. Occupying the old Gateway Market spot, Rocket Coffee’s aim is to serve quality coffee to the steady stream of commuters that drives by. Owner Scott Link took inspiration for his shop from atomic age iconography, lending the space an almost “Jetsons”-like feel that emphasizes both its convenience and the pep given from its beverages. “It’s simply snappy, it really says coffee,” says Link. In its pursuit of tending to commuters, Rocket Coffee also serves MarieBette Café & Bakery pastries, as well as homemade grab-and-go sandwiches and salads.

Tasty tidbits

Tavola received kudos from Wine Spectator magazine for its “affordable exploration of Italian wines” (C-VILLE arts editor, Tami Keaveny, co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Michael). The write-up, posted to Wine Spectator’s website on May 10, notes that “Wine director Priscilla Martin’s Award of Excellence-winning wine list of around 100 labels is concise but strong.”

Augustiner Beer Hall, in the Glass Building (the former Bebedero space), held a soft opening last week, with full service. They’ve built out a deck into the parking lot, too, just in time for the summer weather.

Jeremiah Langhorne, who grew up in the Charlottesville area and attended Albemarle High School, won the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic accolade at the 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards. Langhorne trained under chef John Haywood at the now-shuttered OXO restaurant before moving on to McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina. In 2015, he opened The Dabney in Washington, D.C., and in 2016 the restaurant received one of the city’s first Michelin stars.

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