Vong’s Thai Restaurant Hits The Sweet Spot in Pittsfield
By Regina Burgio
With the arrival of Vong’s, the long wait for a Thai restaurant in Pittsfield, Mass. is officially over, and its owner, restaurateur Jae Chung, has definitely hit the sweet spot. While his eponymous Jae’s Asian Bistro in Lenox (which will soon be moving to Pittsfield, as well) is an eclectic mix of Pan-Asian cuisines, Vong’s is primarily Thai with a sprinkling of Vietnamese dishes.
“I’ve always loved Thai food and wanted to do something authentic, relaxed and at a good value,” Chung says.
Just a stone’s throw from historic Wahconah Park and kitty-corner to Berkshire Medical Center, Vong’s has taken over the former location of Paul’s Greek Restaurant. The Thai place has been especially well received by the medical staff and hospital visitors who appreciate the all-day, continuous hours and quick service.
With the new renovation, Asian-inspired Buddhas of various shapes and sizes mix seamlessly with elephant tapestries in one compact room that’s casually inviting. The undersized dining room includes a 10-seat full bar with three silent TVs that only add to the chilled vibe. Outdoor tables with umbrellas help to extend the 50-person seating capacity.
The night my friend Kim and I were there, the place was packed. A full cocktail menu of 20 Thai-inspired libations ($9-$10) made our decision difficult. A Blue Thai Mojito for her and a Thai-style Bourbon for me turned out to be perfect choices. Sweet, tangy and refreshing, the fragrant citrus of the kaffir lime and the piquant ginger beer with the bourbon were a homerun combination — it went down way too easily. Other ingredients like Thai chili pepper, lemongrass, Thai tea and coffee, and cucumber syrup and basil make ordering off the cocktail menu a must. (And yes, there is a scorpion bowl.)
In addition to a large assortment of appetizers ($5.95-$14.95), the specialty of the house is Vong’s Wing, ($8.95) a deep-fried chicken wing stuffed with glass noodles and vegetables, served with a sweet chili sauce.
Yaya, the dining manager, says the dish is very old school. “The younger generation of Thai cooks don’t even know how to make that. We try to serve Thai food like my grandmother would make.”
We did not try any of the eight salads on the menu but the Green Papaya ($8.95), mango salad ($9.95) and Yum Nua with grilled beef ($8.95), looked delicious when served to our neighbors.
They say we eat with our eyes first and this is definitely true at Vong’s. Entrees are presented beautifully but without pretense. I ordered my favorite, the Panang Curry with shrimp ($13.95). The contrast of vibrant red and green peppers, verdant string beans, and bright carrots against the white plate was striking as the vegetables and shrimp floated in the fiery curry sauce. The somewhat soupy consistency of the dish is what I loved most. It’s served with a spoon so you can properly savor the aromatic broth.
Kim, who had never tried the pho before, ordered their signature dish, the Dac Biet Xe Lua ($13.95). Steak, beef, meatball, brisket, flank, tendon, shrimp and rice noodles floated in a huge bowl of rich, savory broth. The staff seemed very amenable to making any adjustments to our order and didn’t bat an eye when she asked them to hold the tripe.
Chef Steven Vong
There’s a large assortment of entrees featuring seafood, noodles, fried rice, curries, vegetarian options, house specialties and a back page for Vietnamese dishes, starting at $12.95 and topping out at $15.95 with Vong’s Duck.
So now to address the real elephant in the room. Where does the name Vong’s come from? It’s the surname of Jae’s longtime friend and the head chef at the restaurant. Originally from Laos, Steven Vong spent seven years as a Buddhist monk in a monastery in Thailand before honing his skills at the first Jae’s Restaurant in the south end of Boston in 1990.
Open daily with continuous hours from 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Vong’s serves lunch until 3 p.m. but customers can order off the dinner menu all day. “That’s the way we do things,” says Jae. “I’m Asian. We never close.”
Vong’s Thai & Vietnamese Restaurant
157 Seymour Street, Pittsfield MA