Thai restaurants — especially American Thai restaurants — tend to offer the same menu over and over, pigeonholed as nothing more than a casual combination of pad Thai, curry, and sushi.
But the owners of Beg for More Japanese Thai Tapas in Fort Lauderdale want to change that. The restaurant, located at the east end of a shopping plaza in a corner unit once occupied by Pop Rock Sushi Garden, opened in late December. After a complete renovation, new restaurant owners Surissada Sothiwanwongse (Suri for short) and her business partner, Chavanont Suriyanontsakal, are taking things into their own hands.
Both born and raised in Thailand, the duo say they have been working in the restaurant industry since they moved to the United States. Suri, who relocated to Miami in 2010, is the most vocal about her experience with American Thai restaurants.
"A lot of the restaurants here offer the same thing, just sushi and some standard Thai dishes," she says. "We wanted to bring something new to our customers."
To that end, Beg for More's menu is an amalgamation of American, Thai, Japanese, and Chinese-tinged fare. There's still sushi and pad Thai, of course, but there's much more too. Many of the dishes are childhood favorites from home, says Suri, while others are Americanized, tapas-style.
Here, it's entirely possible to make a meal from only the starters. More than 25 small plates combine the best of both American Thai and traditional Thai cuisine. Take the ham and cheese spring rolls, for example, an an easy pick for squeamish eaters; they arrive from the kitchen hot and crispy with the perfect balance of stringy, melted cheese rolled between slices of salty ham. More adventurous eaters will like the "age tofu" — deep-fried slivers of bonito flake that curl and unfurl like writhing tentacles atop soft cubes of tempura-encrusted tofu immersed in a broth-like tempura dipping sauce.
Suri says the gyoza (pork) and shumai (shrimp) dumplings — served four at a time — are her mother's recipe, hand-formed every few days into balls filled meat, sautéed mushrooms, and water chestnut. The krab rangoons may use imitation crab meat, but these don't come from a box. Instead, each crispy wonton shell is handmade and fried to order, stuffed with a cumin-stained cheese sauce Suri created.
While the food is colorful, Beg for More's interior decor is less so. The dining room offers patrons a low-key, low-lit space — a clean slate, from the bare concrete floors to the sleek black leather booths that line the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows. A striking black-and-white mural behind the sushi counter is a cartoon rendering of Suri and her team: a sake-server maiden, fishmonger samurai, and meat-wielding chef she hand-drew and painted herself.
It's makes for a comfortable spot for regulars, who often include friends and family; they stop in for a quiet lunch and order rounds of lychee-infused black iced tea, those homemade dumplings, and the restaurant's special drunken noodles, spaghetti-like rice soaked in a mushroom pepper sauce and topped with chicken, beef, or shrimp. With panoramic views and the peaceful privacy of each booth, the restaurant can offer a romantic date-night retreat for couples sharing a bottle of sake over plates of sushi.
The feeling can fade when you get to the "Rolling Maki" section, however. It's here, with the somewhat off-color titles of the sushi rolls, that the restaurant's own name takes on new meaning. Rolls like "Taste Like My Ex-Girlfriend" will evoke a double take (at the very least), but it's actually a reference to the roll's spicy ingredients — a combination of Thai and Japanese chili peppers may burn you — and there's the pun). Then there's the "Fat Ass," a rice-less yet deep-fried roll with tempura salmon and lava cheese topped with crispy bacon.
Of course, the most popular specialty roll is also the bar's signature sushi item: the Beg for More, a curious assortment of pear, asparagus, and avocado topped with crispy fried rock shrimp, chopped tuna, and truffle oil. As with many of the items on the menu, Suri says she drew inspiration from several of her favorite Miami haunts, pulling ideas here and there to create the menu's more unusual offerings.
That includes the kimchi wok-fried rice, topped with long squiggles of fried egg, fatty ribbons of bacon, chopped scallion, and crisp bites of Korean-style kimchi cabbage. One of several options filed under "Grain of Thrones," the pineapple fried rice is the real treat here. Vegetables, shrimp, and chicken mixed with warmed chunks of grilled pineapple and cashews are served in a hollowed-out pineapple shell.
As with many Thai establishments, Beg for More presents an irrational number of menu items covering soup, salad, a sizable list of both hot and cold appetizers, entrées, fried rice, sushi, and noodles. Finding the restaurant's actual specialties can take some time or a persistent request for guidance. For this reason, Suri is often on-hand, as are a number of Thai- and English-speaking servers.
Suri will recommend the pla salmon, Beg for More's take on one of her favorite homemade Thai meals. Although the traditional version is often cooked, here the salmon is served sashimi-style with a single shaving of garlic and a perky mint leaf for garnish. The focal point, however, is the spicy — if a tad overpowering — Thai dipping sauce it's served with, a pungent combination of fish sauce, chili powder, palm sugar, lime juice, and lemongrass. The dish works well if you're into exotic flavors but would work better if it were prepared the way it's meant to be served: with the salmon baked long enough to stand up to the sauce.
Among the entrées are large portions of red curry, crispy orange duck, tonkatsu fried pork, and an assortment of seafood in a homemade garlic sauce. You won't find the 1988 chicken cashew anywhere else, says Suri. The dish is named for the year she was born; a picky eater when she was younger, the meal — especially the nuts — was always a highlight. At Beg for More, it's an authentic rendition of Thai cashew chicken, red and green peppers, spring onion, water chestnut, scallion, and chicken wok-fried until each bite is gleaming beneath a glazed shellacking.
If you've ever traveled the streets of Thailand, you might be familiar with the Thai donut dessert, deep-fried pillows of doughy goodness dusted in powdered sugar and a dollop of condensed milk. For most places, the dish stops there, served with a side dish of ice cream. Suri takes it one step further, layering the donut with tea-stained shaved ice made using a Thai ice machine she brought from home.
"In Thailand, every restaurant has a version of this dessert. Here, you won't find it like this anywhere else," says Suri. "Like everything else, the idea is to find a dish that will have you 'beg for more.'"