Food for Thought: Sambal: Irvington’s New Thai/Malaysian Restaurant

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by Linda Viertel

Malaysian cuisine, a complex and diverse mélange of flavors garnered from the multi-ethnic populations that inhabit the region, combines Dutch, Portuguese, British, Chinese, indigenous Indonesian, and Indian culinary traditions. So, it makes total sense, that Navjot and Anu Arora, owners of Irvington’s Indian food gem, Chutney Masala, would create Sambal, a modern Thai/Malyasian restaurant.

Sambal’s Chef Lucky Thai and chef Navjot Arora.
Sambal’s Chef Lucky Thai and chef
Navjot Arora.

Situated at their previous location across from Irvington’s train station in the Bridge Street locale, the Arora’s have expanded their already charming spot with a dining and cocktail deck that provides commanding views of the Hudson River. Now you can drink and dine while watching a magnificent sunset, enjoying the river’s cool breezes, and witnessing the New NY Bridge creation.

The Arora’s searched for the perfect chef, and Anu found her – Chef Lucky Thai – in Las Vegas. As Navjot explains, “We wanted home style Thai/Malaysian cooking, and who better than a lady chef born and bred in Thailand? She not only has the brains, experience and energy, but also an extensive home cooking past.” Chef Lucky Thai was, in fact, born in Nakhonsawan, a town located between Bangkok and Chung Mai, Thailand. She grew up on a farm, fully cognizant of how important fresh produce is in creating the healthy, fresh, and complex dishes she prepares. After opening her own Thai and barbecue (!) restaurant in Houston, she relocated to Las Vegas where she quickly earned honors. While living in Las Vegas, she involved herself in the public schools’ sustainable food projects creating school gardens and showing students how to cook from scratch utilizing produce from “their own backyard.”

Known for attention to texture, color and taste, and an over-arching careful use of medicinal ingredients, Thai cuisine’s culinary profile also exhibits a complex interplay between a variety of sweet, sour, bitter and spicy tastes. Chef Lucky Thai’s light touch in the kitchen, her use of aromatics, and ability to elicit “clean tastes” from her ingredients define Sambal’s offerings.

For starters, try the Tom Kha, creamy coconut milk broth soup, flavored with lime, lemongrass, mushrooms and galangal (Indonesian ginger with medicinal properties) or Tom Yun, a spicy lemongrass broth, flavored with lime leaves, galangal, mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken and shrimp. They are both delicate and intricate, exact models of what Thai cooking should be. Som Tum, a green papaya salad, is fresh, crunchy and wholesome. And Peek Thai Tod, crispy chicken wings in a sweet and sour Thai country sauce or Tod Mun Goong, griddled Thai shrimp cakes, complement that salad choice with taste and texture balance.

Diners who know Thai cuisuine will not be surprised to find both chicken and tofu satays on the menu as well as crispy and fresh spring rolls – all standards and perfectly prepared.

Main dishes at Sambal can be as simple as the chef’s wok fried rice filled with vegetables, or as complex as the red, green or panang coconut milk based curries. All are served with your choice of vegetables, organic tofu, beef, chicken or shrimp, wild or jasmine rice. And, who can resist the signature pad thai, that crunchy rice noodle dish, chock full of scallions, bean sprouts, smoked tofu, eggs and covered with crushed peanuts?

Navjot, ever the consummate Indian chef, is contributing to Sambals’ offerings as well. Having traveled through Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, immersing himself in that region’s gastronomy, he then trained at his friend’s restaurant, Laut, a Southeast Asian eatery in Manhattan. At Sambal, he is presenting his own home style, country dish on the menu: chicken rendang, simmered chicken thighs redolent of exotic spices, lemongrass, lime leaves and coconut.

Reminiscent of Indian specials at Chutney Masala, his tangy Malaysian stew combines falling off the bone chicken with a sauce rich in complex tastes. Another house special fast becoming a signature dish is Penang Duck — roasted boned duck in a tomato penang (curry paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves, and coconut milk). The duck melts in your mouth, and the penang sauce is “salt, sweet, spicy, bitter” personified and all delicately bonded by just the right amount of rich and tasty coconut milk. Drunkman Noodles will remind diners of chow fun noodles, that hearty Cantonese stir fry of vegetables, wide noodles and beef in a soy sauce. But Drunkman Noodles substitutes baby corn, carrots, greens, chicken and basil leaves in a delicately spicy chili and garlic sauce; it’s both healthy and hearty.

Two classic drinks that enhance the enjoyment of Thai cooking, Thai iced coffee and Thai iced tea, both sweet chilled drinks, quell the spicy heat and enrich the salt and bitter. Sambal’s bar is now upstairs, close to that inviting deck, where Christian Gimenez, the resident mixologist, creates multiple unique cocktails such as the Black Lotus (Earl Grey syrup with proseco and St. Germain) or the Lychee Martini (Lychee Vodka and vermouth), and, of course, a Singapore Sling (Pinnacle Gin, kirschwasser, pineapple and lime juices).

Having resettled in the East Coast with her three children, Chef Lucky Thai’s energy extends beyond Sambal; she hopes to regenerate her Chef Lucky Thai catering company, teach cooking classes, and create private meal plans for those who want to lose weight. Her website: details her past professional accomplishments, giving a hint as to what she plans in her new locale.

For now, she is refining her Sambal menu, creating new Malaysian choices as the restaurant progresses. And, Chef Navjot and Anu Arora are watching over their new creation with impressive care, as any proud parents would do.

If You Go:

4 West Main Street, Irvington

Hours: Lunch: M-F 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: M-Th 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Fri.-Sat.: 4:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Sun.: 12 p.m.-9 p.m.
Happy Hour: M-F 3 p.m.-6 p.m.
(bar and patio only)

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