One of the country’s best new restaurants of 2023, Thattu, is going on winter break with a pair of Chicago chefs popping up while the restaurant team enjoys its time away.
While Thattu, the South Indian restaurant from Vinod Kalathil and Eater Chicago chef of the year Margaret Pak, take a two-week sabbatical, Thai American chefs Fred Noinaj and Palita Sriratana will team up for two nights: Friday, January 19, and Saturday, January 20. Tickets are now on sale at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, January 9 via Tock.
Noinaj and Sriratana’s pop-up is their “love letter to Chiang Mai,” the capital of northern Thailand. Both a city and a province, Chiang Mai has seen dramatic changes in its food and dining habits due to modernization, globalization, and economic growth, the chefs write. They’re concerned that the area’s culinary traditions, some of which are passed down through oral tradition but otherwise are undocumented, including the recipes of the nine hill tribes inhabiting the region.
“This experience is an effort to preserve, appreciate, and share some of our favorite northern Thai dishes in family-style dinner,” they write. “[It’s a] style of dining that is just as essential as the ingredients to the dining culture of the North.”
The duo will present attendees (each dinner is capped at 32) with a menu that begins with laphet thoke, or Burmese tea leaf salad. Follow-up courses include aep pla (Chiang Rai-style minced whitefish and catfish and herbal curry paste that’s stuffed into a banana leaf and grilled), gaeng hung le (Mae Hong Son-style Shan pork belly curry with dill, ginger, and pickled garlic), and yam pii (Northern-style tom yam soup with banana blossom and chicken). The evenings will also feature pairings with Apologue Liquors, which Noinaj and Sriratana selected for its Midwestern flavors such as paw paw in a nod to the American aspect of their identities.
Both chefs are familiar players in Chicago’s hospitality industry. Sriratana is the creative engine behind moveable Thai feast Pink Salt, which had a home inside the now-shuttered Fulton Galley, now pops up around town while collaborating with heavyweights like Ramen-san and SoHo House. She also has her own line of Thai-style roasted chili jam, Nam Prik Pao, that she jars for retail sales. Noinaj, a 2016 Eater Young Gun semifinalist, formerly helmed the kitchen at shuttered tropical bar Lost Lake and has worked as executive chef at Cherry Circle Room inside the palatial Chicago Athletic Association hotel.
Thattu will be closed from Tuesday, January 16 through Thursday, February 1. The announcement comes at a bit of a challenging time for Thattu. Burglars broke a window and took the restaurant’s cash register, a move that forced Thattu to only accept electronic payments this week. Pak and Kalathil say they’re a bit shaken up — the thieves knew exactly what to look for. As restaurants accepting cash are becoming a rare breed, crimes like this are becoming kind of a rite of passage for restaurant owners. Kalathil is hopeful that 2024 will be a kinder year for Chicago and its restaurants.
Love Letter to Chiang Mai featuring chefs Fred Noinaj and Palita Sriratana pop-up, Friday, January 19 and Saturday, January 20 at Thattu, 2601 W. Fletcher Street, tickets available via Tock.