Enticing aromas abound in the kitchen of Auburn’s newest Asian-fusion restaurant, Jasmine Cafe. I am trying to catch the action of the photographer/videographer as he films Somrudee Saengwong, the establishment’s matriarch and culinary guru, but I am having difficulty keeping my mind — and hands — off the dish of red curry that has just made its way to me.
The Saengwongs, principally Supannee (daughter and manager), Somrudee (who runs the kitchen and creates many of the dishes) and Samer (father and sushi master), have been serving the Twin Cities for five years at their Sabattus Street, Lewiston, restaurant Thai Jarearn Express.
However, wanting to diversify their menu and reach more customers, they began thinking of opening a new location. For two years the family worked to find, renovate and staff this second location at the Auburn Plaza (next to U.S. Cellular), said Supannee. They looked at many different sites, with "the atmosphere being the most important" qualification, she said.
They opened Jasmine Cafe in March. With a capacity of 101, more access to parking and a larger kitchen, the new restaurant offers much-needed space for the family's operation, Saengwong explained.
The menu at Jasmine Cafe is a mix of Thai, Japanese, Korean and fusion dishes, as well as an enormous selection of made-to-order sushi. The Saengwongs spent months trying to create original dishes that retain classic elements of Thai, Korean, and Japanese cuisines, said Supannee. For example, two of their most popular and creative dishes are Lady in Green, seared salmon covered with Napa cabbage and a red curry sauce, and their cheese raviolis (traditional raviolis in a massaman curry). Their sushi bar has also been very popular, she said.
The Saengwongs have been busy since March, especially because Thai Jarearn remains open, but the family members aren't giving themselves a break anytime soon. The menu, which is revised every six months of so, is going to be changing in the near future, said Supannee. Among the upcoming additions is a massaman curry with potatoes, carrots, okra and either chicken or beef. Massaman, a traditional Thai curry that is sweet, nutty and spicy, was recently ranked No. 1 by CNN in its list of the world’s most delicious foods.
Supannee shared her recipe for Orange Duck, another soon-to-be menu item. A similar, popular dish has been their Tamarind Duck, a crispy, boneless duck half with a sweet-and-sour sauce.
“We are trying to present the food in a more colorful way,” said Supannee, referring not only to the presentation, but the variety of flavors and colors found in their dishes. “The menu, it’s our favorites. It’s the creation of our experience. We’ve got to like it first, then it goes onto the menu for the customers,” she said.
And their experimenting has yielded unique and fun dishes. Still, traditionalists need not fear. The kitchen is happy to make classic Thai favorites as well as dishes from the Thai Jarearn menu, said Supannee.
Jasmine Cafe has a full bar, fresh sushi, and can make any meal vegetarian. It is open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.