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New Thai restaurant bringing the heat

New Thai restaurant bringing the heat

If you like what you eat at the Pho Queen, they’ll teach you how to cook it. The new Thai restaurant
New Thai restaurant bringing the heat
Naphalak 'Gaan' Fuino, owner of Pho Queen at 602 State St. in Schenectady holds a specialty dish called drunken noodles. A Vietnam native and a huge fan of noodles, Fuino plans to conduct cooking classes, starting April 10.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

If you like what you eat at the Pho Queen, they’ll teach you how to cook it.

The new Thai restaurant is planning to offer its first cooking class as it nears the anniversary of its first month in operation.

Owner Naphalak “Gaan” Fuino and chef Lom Xayvongsa are the entire staff of the restaurant at 602 State St. It takes its name from the Vietnamese word for “soup,” even though Fuino is Thai, Xayvongsa is Laotian, and the food they prepare is Thai with a Chinese influence.

“Pho” has better name recognition than “noodle soup,” Fuino laughs — “a lot of people know pho!”

She said it’s her favorite food. “I am a noodle person. I could eat noodles all the time. I had a dream to have noodle soup when I started,” she said, but when it came time to design a menu, she realized “we have to have other things, too.”

And so they do: a small but varied list of rice, meat and seafood dishes, with vegan and gluten-free options for those who desire them. There is no beer or wine, yet, but a license to serve has been requested.

Thai cuisine is known for spicy heat, and in fact Xayvongsa set a Gazette writer to coughing as he fried up a batch of drunken noodles Thursday. But Fuino said everything can be made mildly too, and she puts fiery condiments on the table for diners to boost the heat as they like.

Along with spice, Thai cuisine is noted for its depth and complexity — the curries alone come in a broad range of flavors, colors and ingredients, and they’re just the base for the rest of a dish. Fuino said even a roasted duck requires a bunch of ingredients. She hopes to demystify things a bit with her classes. “We are going to present Thai food,” she said, adding that she’d thought about doing classes in a school setting. “Now I don’t have to, I have my own kitchen.”

The first class will be Sunday, April 10. It is $45 per person and will last about 21⁄2 hours. To keep the class from getting too complex the first time out, the curriculum will be relatively simple: shrimp.

“We want them to learn the process of cooking,” Fuino said. “After that, we can eat.”

Fuino worked in the tourism industry in Thailand’s Hua Hin district before she immigrated to the United States 10 years ago with her husband, Daniel, a Slingerlands native. They settled here, and Fuino began taking college courses and working. Her last job for someone else was at Jasmine Thai, a restaurant on Broadway in Rotterdam.

Xayvongsa took a much longer route to Schenectady. He fled the Communist takeover in Laos, spent time in a Thai refugee camp, then made his way to France, the former colonial ruler of Laos. (He had studied French in college and had friends in France.) After five years, he immigrated to the United States to be closer to family members here. He was cooking in a Salt Lake City restaurant when a mutual friend introduced him to Fuino as she was laying the groundwork for Pho Queen.

The menu is a collaborative effort between the two.

“I came up with an idea with what I want,” Fuino said, “he’s the one that had to come up with the sauce.”

Fuino said she is off to a good start in her first month. She’s getting steady lunchtime traffic and trying to build the dinnertime traffic. She hopes to get on the radar of people coming downtown in the evening for entertainment.

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