Thai dresses up Haddonfield’s dining scene

Marla Cimini, For the Courier | August 16, 2016

Many of the exquisite dishes served on the Oceania Nautica are inspired by the ship’s exotic ports of call. Learn to make Nautica’s take on a Thai classic with the ship’s executive chef. Oceania Cruises

Haddonfield’s dining district offers plenty of destinations – including Thailand.

Sanook Thai Cuisine, featuring distinctive Southeast Asian flavors, is the only Thai restaurant in town.

Blending traditional and modern tastes, chef and owner Nalatta Furstoss has created a menu that incorporates seasonal ingredients from North America into her classic Thai-style dishes.

Furstoss was born near Bangkok, where she learned to make authentic Thai food at a very young age. Although she had no formal chef training, Furstoss was raised in a small village near the famous “Floating Market” in the Ratchaburi province, where fresh produce and local ingredients are plentiful.

While growing up, she helped cook her family’s meals with the guidance of her mother, grandmother and aunts, who showed her how to create traditional, regional specialties that became a major part of her own life. All the food was homemade every day, using locally grown and sourced fruit, vegetables, fish and meat.

Sanook THai CuisinePhoto gallery:

“We cooked every meal while I was growing up – breakfast, lunch and dinner. I learned how to make everything from scratch. Looking back, I feel the experience was such a treasure – it was like going to an exclusive cooking school and learning the traditional and elegant way of Thai cooking,” she said.

She met her husband, Rob Furstoss, in 1987 while he was working as an American Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English at a university in Bangkok. Eventually, the couple moved to Toms River, where Rob was an English professor at Ocean County College, and where he continues to teach. Nalatta opened her first Thai restaurant, Siam Spice in Toms River, in 2010 after the couple married and had three sons. They are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this year.

Nalatta has made her restaurants a family affair, as their sons, Kawyn, 24; Justin 21; and Ethan, 19; all have been involved in the family business over the years. Justin continues to cook and manages the Sanook restaurant part time. Currently, Nalatta’s Aunt Jarun, who lives in Thailand, is visiting the family and helping in the kitchen as well.

So why did they choose Haddonfield as the location for their second restaurant?

“My sister has resided in Haddonfield for over 30 years, so we know the community very well,” said Rob. “The venue is very special – it is spacious with a great kitchen. We knew that we could bring a level of authenticity and flair to the food that people can’t find elsewhere. When you open a restaurant, the No. 1 criteria is that you must love the place, because you are there all the time. And this is a place that we love. Nalatta saw it and right away felt at home.”

For the new restaurant, they choose the name Sanook because it is the Thai word that means, “fun or joy in life,” and considered a very important social value in Thailand. The restaurant features a main front dining room as well as a rear dining area decorated with authentic Thai artwork, procured by Nalatta from recent visits to her home country.

Inside, the restaurant seats 94 guests and can accommodate private events for showers, corporate functions, weddings and more. Sanook also has a covered spacious outdoor patio behind the restaurant with enough seating for 46 customers — a busy spot during warmer months.

Sanook’s menu is a hybrid of authentic rural Thai food blended with North American styles. The restaurant’s slogan, “Proudly traditional, distinctly modern” reflects this sentiment and Nalatta’s unique style of cooking.

House specialties include the Choo-Chee scallops, served with sautéed vegetables in a red curry reduction with Kaffir lime; and Sanook soft shell crabs, lightly battered with sautéed in a green curry reduction and vegetables. The Padd Kea Mow (also called drunken noodles) features wide rice noodles stir-friend in a garlic chili sauce with egg and mixed vegetables. The signature dish is Sanook shrimp, which is served in a creamy chili sauce with asparagus, cherry tomato, baby corn and shiitake mushroom.

According to Nalatta, one of their more popular seafood entrées is the red snapper, which is served whole and standing up on the plate, topped with a reduction sauce. It is large enough for two people to share and is accompanied by vegetables, such as bok choy and broccoli on the side.

The menu also features an array of curry dishes, including the Gaeng Dang (red curry), which is one of the restaurant’s best sellers. It features coconut milk, mixed vegetables and Thai herbs. Another classic dish is the Gaeng Khua Sapparod, a mild red coconut curry with pineapple, tomato, bell pepper and Thai basil. The restaurant also offers a selection of traditional Thai desserts, as well as house-made ice cream, including coconut.

When creating recipes, Nalatta always makes sure to test dishes on her family. Her husband and sons offer their opinions and help her develop innovative specialties that are added to the restaurant’s menu.

“I am very particular about the food that I serve at the restaurant. Every meal is prepared to order, as if I were making it for my own family. I ensure that every single meal is perfect. It is very important to me that my customers are happy and enjoy their experience here.

“Customers here are surprised to see that our menu is so varied with complex flavors,” she continued. “And they quickly discover that not all Thai food is very spicy, and every dish here is made to order. “In South Jersey, we see that Thai food is certainly increasing in popularity. At first, some people may be familiar with one or entrees — and we see them coming back to taste new dishes, too.”

“I think Thai cuisine speaks to a lot of interests,” Rob continued. “The lightness and richness of the Thai textures are almost unrepeatable in any other cuisine. It is just so wondrous. The food can be so light, fresh and healthy, and the tastes are so dense and rich. That’s the special feature of Thai food.”

Marla Cimini is a freelance writer living in Cherry Hill. She writes about travel, food, wine and spirits for USA Today and other publications and always enjoys visiting new restaurants. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram: @MarlaCimini.


If you go

Sanook Thai Cuisine, 18 Tanner St., Haddonfield. Call (856) 857-1169 or visit Hours are 11:30 a.m to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday