Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Farewell to Fo Thai, hello to Soy Asian Cuisine

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 8:10 AM

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Fat City received an e-mail from a former Fo Thai employee in May stating that nearly all of the restaurant's employees had walked out. (Fat City could never confirm the story.) At the time, the elaborately and expensively mounted venue was then all of six months old. Three weeks ago, Fo Thai closed. The location then just as quickly reopened with a new owner and a new name: Soy Asian Cuisine.

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Fo Thai opened with a splash (and help from a high-profile local PR agency) in Leawood's One Nineteen Shopping Center, although the restaurant had some distinctive problems from the beginning: inconsistent cuisine, clumsy service, high prices. Apparently, not all of the prayers to the giant Buddha statue in the dining room could stop Fo Thai's inevitable decline.

The serene Buddha statue still dominates the theatrical dining room of the new Soy Asian Cuisine, although it's no longer bathed in rotating shades of orchid, pink and blue. Out went the lights, in went a half-dozen bamboo plants. The dining room is no longer as dark as the tomb of Empress Jingu, and the current owner has reduced prices (the $59 charred chili-rubbed Kobe beef sirloin has been replaced with a $26 USDA prime angus sirloin) and added an impressive number of sushi and sashimi choices.

The new name, Soy Asian Cuisine, doesn't say much about this restaurant's cuisine or give any indication of the venue's theatrical interior (it looks like a castoff set from a road company production of Teahouse of the August Moon). Many dishes were held over from the Fo Thai menu (the Thai basil stir-fry, a green papaya and mango salad, seven spice calamari, the "Kung pao"-style angel hair pasta, for example); reportedly Fo Thai chef Chee Ming So is still in the kitchen.

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There were only two occupied tables in the dining room when I dined at Soy last night, eating a simple meal of miso soup (a soothing broth dappled with tiny, milky cubes of tofu, scallions and swatches of green seawood) and an excellent seaweed salad, a violently jade-green jumble of fresh seaweed sprinkled with sesame seeds and perched on crunchy jicama straws and a sleek bamboo leaf. "I don't think that the leaf is edible," warned the server. "But it looks good."

The serving staff — mostly new hires — is attractive and attentive, but a couple of them seem a little confused about some of the ingredients in Soy's dishes. But, hey, this new restaurant is less than a month old, and Buddha still smiles, beatifically, from his perch in front of the venue's bathrooms. It seems like a good omen.

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