Chef Ounjit Hardacre is an energetic force at her new restaurant, Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar. After moving to Colorado from the Bay Area, she and her husband, Duane, opened Citizen Thai Bistro in Golden three years ago. And now the appropriately named followup is open at 1700 Platte Street, part of a wave of growth on that short strip.
Hardacre spends most of the lunch hour in the kitchen, but when she emerges into the dining room, her presence adds a dash of intensity to the otherwise calm ambience — like a hit of chilis on a cool papaya salad.
Like Citizen, Daughter is no standard takeout joint; the space is tranquil and elegant, the bar modern and brimming with good booze, the menu pared back but bursting with flavor. But a small menu doesn't equal a simple one: Hardacre combines her years of experience cooking in Thai restaurants in San Francisco (including with the Osha Thai group) and her upbringing in Kanchanaburi (a province in western Thailand near the Burmese border) to showcase traditional Thai cuisine with recipes that she has developed herself. "I have to keep the menu small for my kitchen," the chef explains, noting that labor costs, and the price of dishes, go up when more food prep is required.
So rather than offer every style of curry, every rice dish and noodle bowl found from north to south, the chef has chosen carefully, making sure to include staples like sticky rice, pad Thai with shrimp, pineapple fried rice and vegetable-filled crispy rolls, while creating such unique riffs as the Daughter pla-larb salad and kang ped (a red curry) loaded with duck confit. "These are not original to Thailand," Hardacre explains. "They combine different dishes into something new."
The pla-larb salad, for example, veers from traditional larb in that it contains lemongrass and tomato, the chef notes. The presentation is new, too, with a stack of crispy-fried frog legs (rather than the more typical ground pork or chicken) intermingled with wedges of roma tomato and strands of red onion, and sided with carrot and cucumber spears. As an appetizer, it eats like an order of Buffalo wings; use the accompanying sticky rice to soak up every drop of the pungent dressing (yes, you can use your fingers) made with fish sauce and speckled with toasted rice powder.
Daughter's khao soi kai (coconut curry noodle soup with chicken) sticks mostly to tradition, but Hardacre uses shredded chicken instead of pieces of chicken on the bone. "It's not traditional, but the combination of shredded chicken and soft noodles — people really love it," she notes. All the other standard elements are present, though: a nest of crunchy noodles on top, a drizzle of near-black toasted chili oil, a lime wedge and half a hard-boiled egg.
Hardacre's dream has always been to open a noodle shop with one counter and limited seating, she says, but the spaces at both Citizen and Daughter have been better suited to full-service restaurants. Even so, Daughter's dinner menu offers a roster of street food, including panang curry typical of Kanchanaburi, where wild game is prevalent and heat levels soar. The chef keeps the heat in check for Western palates, though you can request a condiment caddie to add any boost you desire.
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At lunch, try the Thai fried chicken served over fried rice (since it's not on the dinner menu); at dinner, go a little more upscale with fried quail. If you can't decide on an entree, the Thai-gerr Smile (a grilled flatiron steak with two sauces) is worth ordering, if only for the name and for the side of khao jee — a square of coconut sticky rice fried until golden and crunchy.
No matter what you choose for your meal, be sure to budget in a cocktail or two. The Thai Fashioned, with peanut-infused bourbon, guava, bitters and lemon, offers a slightly nutty take on a pre-Prohibition classic, and the rest of the offerings rely on a balance of bitter, herbal and complex flavors rather than a preponderance of sugar and fruit.
Will Hardacre's noodle bar ever happen? Absolutely, she promises. But first, she wants you to come in and experience her new restaurant.
Daughter Thai is currently in soft-opening mode but will hold its grand opening on October 18, a date that Hardacre picked for its feng shui significance. The restaurant is located at 1700 Platte Street and is open for lunch and dinner (closing between 2:30 and 5 p.m. for now) every day but Sunday. Call 720-667-4652 or visit daughterthaikitchenandbar.com for more details.