Chef Kae Alexander might seem unassuming with her small stature and quiet way, but the Thai food she’s brought to Milton sure packs a spicy punch.
Alexander, a Chiang Mai, Thailand native, opened the aptly named Vermont Thai Restaurant in early May at the Middle Road/Railroad Street/Route 7 intersection, home of the former Roadside Tavern, which closed in September 2011.
The chef previously ran a successful catering business from her home in Shelburne, so much that take-out orders generated too much traffic and forced Alexander and husband, Bill, to search for bigger digs.
Their home sold in two days, and luckily, the Alexanders soon settled in Milton, where Bill had previously lived for 15 years. He said he knew the Route 7 building carried stigma for its frequent tenant turnover, but after peeking in the window, Kae was convinced her restaurant found a home.
Bill Alexander owns a website company and leaves the cooking to Chef Kae, who learned her cooking skills at age 14 at a hotel owned by the royal Thai family. When she moved to Vermont, Bill urged her to “just do what you do in Thailand.”
The result is authentic Thai cuisine. Alexander says she cooks everything to her taste, which, for some, might be a little spicy. She urges folks new to Thai to let their tongues get used to the heat before writing it off.
“[I want customers] to understand Thai food more,” she said. “My restaurant may be different.”
So if you haven’t heard of yum woo sen goong, Alexander won’t blame you. On a recent afternoon, she even demonstrated just how she puts it together: The salad-like dish starts with a concoction of chili pepper, garlic, fish sauce and lime juice, to which clear rice noodles are added. A bowlful of fresh shrimp, celery and tomato and a toss completes the meal.
“She loves cooking, and she’s very fussy about it,” Bill Alexander said, explaining Kae isn’t keen on substitutions but will happily adjust spice. “She just wants to keep the integrity of the food.”
Steve and Kathy Howe traveled from St. Albans that afternoon to try Chef Kae’s offerings and weren’t disappointed.
The couple waited about 30 minutes to get their meal, partially due to a mix-up with a take-out order when they arrived, but they brought work from home and didn’t mind the delay.
They understand Alexander’s philosophy that patience will be rewarded; the chef relies on freshly prepared ingredients, many sourced from Thailand. On a recent trip, she made Bill dump out his suitcase and fill it with uncommon goods like Thai peppercorns and kachai, a ginger-like root.
For their meal, the Howes chose the aforementioned shrimp salad, larb moo, a minced pork dish; and kai jeow, a Thai omelette, and felt they got the genuine Thai experience.
“We wanted to try something a little different,” Steve Howe said. “We wanted to try things we couldn’t find as easily.”
Alexander appreciated the feedback and gave the Howes a gift certificate to come back. They plan on it.
Vermont Thai Restaurant is open Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 9 p.m. Call 891-9254 or visit www.thaivermont.com for more information or to place a take-out order.