September in Bangkok is the best time to get rice, one of the mainstays of Thai cuisine. Winyu “Win” Seetamyae hopes New Haveners will consider any time of the year “September in Bangkok” when they have a hankering for Thai food.
After 15 years of cooking in New York City kitchens on the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side, Seetamyae wanted to open a restaurant that honored his roots. The 35-year-old chef is from Thailand; he cooked in a family restaurant there before he came to the United States.
He said he chose New Haven because it is the home of Yale University. He thought a restaurant in close proximity to the famed institution would make it a magnet for students and professors looking for a bite to eat and a place to host private events. Seetamyae cooked in restaurants close to Columbia University before; he wanted to see if he could be as successful without the hustle and bustle of big city life
“I wanted to create something that was modern, cool and a nice price,” he said. “Something that people could comfortably afford.”
Seetamyae is the latest restaurateur to try his hand at turning 754 State St. into a viable anchor business for a corner that bridges Downtown and Upper State Street. He opened September in Bangkok about a month ago. “So far,” he said, so “good.”
“The first week I was so worried,” he said. “We were really busy.”
That’s good news for a location that has seen a rotating succession of restaurants come and go. Just a little over a year ago Dashi, a Japanese restaurant that specialized in shabu-shabu, or hot pot cooking, opened. It didn’t last long.
Seetamyae said he’d looked at a number of potential locations. The corner restaurant with the large patio space and close proximity to a thriving State Street business district and not terribly far from Yale seemed like the right place. He said building owners Julie and Steve Bernblum and Henry Ditman, particularly Steve, were helpful in helping him navigate the process of opening the restaurant.
“I like the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s really nice. I didn’t know New Haven was such a good food city.”
When he’s not working in his own restaurant, he’s trying out the offerings of his fellow restaurant owners and thinking about other items to incorporate in his menu. He used to work making bagels; he’s thinking about how he could include them on a future brunch menu. The restaurant also has a pizza oven in the back; at some point, he’d like to fire it up for a Thai-inspired dish.
He took on the job of redecorating the interior of the restaurant himself, exchanging the previous restaurant’s brighter decor for richer tones of golds, blues, and cream made warmer by all of the wood accents.
But Seetamyae knows that the star of any restaurant is the food, and cooking is what he loves best. September in Bangkok’s current menu — Seetamyae aims to change it on a monthly basis — features traditional dishes like Pad Thai, which will be familiar to those who know a little about the cuisine. But he’s hoping to expose customers to other parts of Thailand through his food.
“I want to make the food different but not too different,” he said. “We want it to be as authentic as possible, but we also want to try to make it sexier.”
He also wants it to be spicier. Seetamyae said he grew up eating very spicy food. For those who truly love the heat, he said, “I got you. My chili is real Thai chili,” though he will adjust it for those who prefer keeping the temperature down.
“Thai food is not just spice,” he said. “It’s so much flavor with all the different types of sauces and slow cooking. I hope people will come to try something new and different.”