By Nancy Brumback, Contributing Writer
Northborough – As Yoong Tong, the popular Thai restaurant, celebrates its 12th anniversary, it also showcases the creativity of the second generation of the family who owns it.
New Sittikong, the oldest of the cousins in the extended Sahasakmontri family, is the sushi chef in Northborough and recently graduated with a business degree from Nichols College.
“I have a very good head for business, and I love cooking,” he said.
He worked with the restaurant's sushi chef for about two years, “and I'se worked in the restaurant since I was 11.” When that chef left, Sittikong took over as sushi chef.
He offers the traditional varieties of sushi and sashimi, but the menu has added almost a dozen maki rolls and salads that are Chef New's specialties.
“I want to be very creative with my specials. There's a traditional element, but with a different edge to it, a Thai-sushi fusion,” Sittikong said. Even the names of the specialsâ”OMG maki, Godzilla maki, Rock Star makiâ”reflect the fresh approach of a new generation to the sushi side of the restaurant's menu.
My husband and I have eaten at Yoong Tong before, but have always chosen from the Thai menu â”and been delighted with our choices.
After talking with Sittikong, however, we looked forward to sampling his work and picked the Rock Star maki roll ($16.95), which he said was his favorite and one of the restaurant's best sellers.
But we also couldn's resist a Thai dish as well. Sittikong and his aunt suggested we order one Thai dish with the generously-sized maki roll, so we picked wild boar basil ($15.95).
Yoong Tong's sushi menu offers two pieces of sushi or three pieces of sashimi for $4.50 to $7.95, and a wide variety of maki rolls, in addition to New's specialties, from $8.50 to $15.95, along with combination plates for sharing.
The Thai menu includes about 20 different appetizers from $5.50 to $7.95, plus soups, salads and noodle bowls.
It's almost impossible to choose from the wide variety of entrees, most priced between $14.95 and $17.95. There are the Yoong Tong specialties, including the tamarind duck we enjoyed during a previous visit, curries, seafood options and pan-fried dishes.
When Sittikong brought the Rock Star maki to our table, it was almost too pretty to eat. “I consider my work not just food, but art,” he said with a smile.
The plate was garnished with carrots cut into flowers, and the ginger slices were arranged as a rosebud, with the green wasabi shaped like a leaf at the base. The maki roll itself was plump with shrimp tempura and cucumber, and topped with kanikama (crab), scallions, red onion and avocado mixed with tempura flour and cooked to a satisfying crunch. Spicy mayo added zest but did not overpower the other flavors.
The Rock Star maki was absolutely delicious, an opinion shared by a couple perched at the restaurant's sushi bar, who said they order it every time they come in.
The wild boar basil was also excellent, very tender slices of lean pork, with mushrooms, strips of red and green peppers, Thai eggplant and basil leaves in a sauce that was both sweet and spicy. Even though the dish was marked with three chili peppers to warn of its fire, we found it, like the maki roll, spicy but not overwhelming, so all the combined flavors came through.
Of course we had no room for dessert, but our hostess urged us just to try the restaurant's Black Sapphire rice pudding. And I would urge you to do the same.
This is not your mother's rice pudding.
Served hot, the pudding, made of black rice, was as dark as very dark chocolate and topped with white coconut cream that spread out to form a flower shape on the dark surface. The flavor was sweet and intense, and the dessert made a light ending to our delicious meal.
Yoong Tong is open for lunch during the week and dinner every evening, and the family operates a second Yoong Tong in Chelmsford right on the bike trail.
Yoong Tong is located at 278 Main St. (Route 20) in Northborough. Lunch is available on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Monday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday until 10 p.m., Saturday from 3:30 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 3:30 to 9 p.m. Most menu items are available for takeout. For more information, call 508-393-7714 or visit www.yoongtong.com.