There are two main reasons to visit The Harbor Shops on 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale: A) to stock up at Total Wine and B) to dive headfirst into the red bean and coconut sticky rice dessert from Coco Asian Bistro, the shopping plaza's chic, pan-Asian restaurant. The extensive menu is anchored with classic Thai dishes like Panang Curry and Pad Thai as well as sushi and other Japanese dishes. Coco Asian Bistro opened just six years ago, yet according to owner, chef, and Thai native Mike Ponluang, the restaurant is due for a facelift -- or at least the restaurant equivalent of injectables.
Ponluang is no stranger to the
restaurant industry. He first began cooking as a youngster back in Thailand where he and his
father, a school teacher, would prepare simple dishes like noodles and
papaya salad to sell at local festivals. During the Vietnam War, he
worked in a hotel kitchen that catered to high-ranking American military
officers who wanted a taste of home, often requesting traditional
Today, in addition to owning Coco Asian Bistro, Ponluang has another restaurant, Mama Asian Noodle, in the Coconut
Creek Promenade. His first restaurant, Thai Pepper in Coral Springs,had a sixteen year run. He describes Coco Asian's menu as European-style cooking with Thai flavors.
Coco Asian Bistro's extensive menu will feature several new items including more seafood, fresh lobster, and tabletop lava stone grills. Lava stone grills, though not a new cooking concept, are growing in popularity at restaurants in the UK and Australia. Now they are starting to pick up steam here in the U.S., mainly on the west coast. Similar to the charcoal tabletop grills used for Korean barbecue, individual grills, either filled with small hot lava stones, or one stone slab, are placed on the table along with a plate of sliced meat which diners can cook to their liking. Benefits of lava stone cooking include using less oil and retaining the meat's natural juices.
The bistro's landscape has also undergone a makeover. A new enclosed patio drowns out the noise from the bustling plaza. Verdant plants, dim lighting,
and an eco-friendly fire pit create an intimate environment normally reserved for free-standing restaurants.
When asked why he is making changes so soon, Ponluang chuckles and said that every five years or so he starts to get the itch and change things up a bit. We know what you're thinking, but don't worry -- the coconut sticky rice isn't going anywhere.
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