First Look: Yao in Dunwoody explores flavors of Bangkok’s Chinatown

Last week, chef-partners and best friends Adidsara Weerasin and Taya Denmark opened Yao, an upscale Thai-Chinese restaurant and bar, in the Park Center mixed-use development at the corner of Perimeter Center Parkway and Hammond Drive in Dunwoody.

The duo describe the menu as a “culinary homage to the vibrant Yaowarat neighborhood in Bangkok, an ancient Thai-Chinese community,” where “spicy, crunchy, tangy and delectable dishes are handed down over many generations.”

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Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Weerasin is from Bangkok, and Denmark is from the Isan region of Thailand. While they were waiting on the build-out for Yao, they managed to open a popular Isan-style Thai street food restaurant, called Tum Pok Pok, on Buford Highway in Chamblee.

“But here we wanted to do something totally different, like you’ve never seen before in the U.S.,” Weerasin said when she sat down at a table with Denmark at Yao. “It’s a Thai fusion with the food and the presentation. It’s the kind of place me and Taya like to hang out, for a party or dinner. So drinks, food, a place for family, and we plan to be open late on the weekend, and for lunch soon.”

The elegantly appointed multilevel space features tall windows overlooking Hammond Drive, a spacious L-shaped bar area, surrounded by two dining sections downstairs, another more intimate dining room upstairs, plus secluded rooms for private dining.

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Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Much of the decor and artwork and artifacts are imported from Thailand, including the blown glass lights dangling from the soaring ceiling, and the huge mural of a traditional Chinese woman of Bangkok.

For Weerasin and Denmark, the full bar was particularly important for creating the kind of experience you’d find in Thailand, and especially Bangkok. “In Thailand, we have some top bars, so we created some signature drinks here, with Ms. Yao and Mr. Yao,” Weerasin said.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Both are gin-based and beautifully presented with exotic garnishes. Ms. Yao is mixed with Highclere Castle London dry gin, lemon juice and honey syrup, served in a coupe with an ice ball with frozen herbs inside. Mr. Yao is a tall drink with Empress 1908 Gin and floating layers of chardonnay and Cointreau liqueur and bright butterfly pea flower syrup.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Beyond the decor and the drinks, though, the combination Chinese-Thai cuisine is the true focal point, celebrating Bangkok’s unique Chinatown, known as one of the largest in the world.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Among the dishes on offer, Taro Rolls are deep-fried wraps, filled with shrimp, and served propped up in a glass snifter filled with sweet chili dipping sauce. “Taro root is a big part of Chinese cooking, so we put the shrimp and taro together to make this,” Weerasin said.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Yao Dumplings are a blend of chicken, shrimp, pork, napa cabbage, green onions, cilantro, charred shishito peppers and sambal sauce, and served a bit like savory lollipops. “It’s all blended together, and each one has to be handmade,” Denmark said.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Jumbo Prawn Pad Thai is jumbo shrimp served over stir-fried Chinese noodles with an aromatic blend of tamarind sauce, egg, crispy tofu, sweet radish, bean sprouts, chives and crushed peanuts.

One of the most colorful dishes is a house-made dessert simply known as Yao’s Ice Cream. It’s flavored with coconut and butterfly pea flower syrup, which gives it a striking cobalt blue color. And it’s presented in a halved mini coconut shell with roasted peanuts and salted egg yolk.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

“We’ve only been open four days, and all four days have been busy,” Denmark said. “We weren’t planning to open the upstairs and the patio, but we’ve had so many people we decided we had to do it. And the reaction is, ‘This is so different, I feel like I’m somewhere else, not in Atlanta.’”

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

DINING OUT

4-10 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays-Thursdays; 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturdays. Closed Mondays. Order online for takeout or delivery. Lunch coming soon.

237 Perimeter Center Parkway NE, Dunwoody; parking entrance on Hammond Drive. 770-557-0353, yaoatlanta.com.

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