When Kirk Cohen and May Mananya moved from Los Angeles five years ago, they were craving the Thai food that’s so prevalent in their home city. Although New Orleans boasts cuisine from all over the world, the Thai food scene is limited, mainly because of the lack of necessary ingredients.
“Ingredients, for some Thai food, are hard to find here,” Mananya explained.
From a pop up to a brick and mortar restaurant
To satisfy her own craving, Mananya started experimenting with the dishes of her native Thailand. She and Cohen began serving the food as a hobby, at pop-ups all over the city, beginning in March 2018. Calling their endeavor Long Chim (translation: ‘have a taste’), they were stationed at The Music Box Village, offering dumplings and mango sticky rice. Their experiment was a hit.
“People told us that these were dishes that they had been looking for,” Cohen said.
From there, Cohen and Mananya began building a name for themselves, offering a small menu of Thai favorites, until they settled into a space at Auction House Market. After a year, their reputation took off and they opened their own brick and mortar restaurant at 4113 Magazine St. in January.
The couple is honest about the fact that they are new to the cooking world — Cohen formerly worked as a ticket exec and Mananya worked as a make-up artist, before deciding to make Long Chim a reality. Mananya has experience working the front of house at restaurants, and their passion for Thai cuisine is what fueled them to give the restaurant business a shot.
“My passion is photography and videography and May’s is beauty,” Cohen said. “We feel that Long Chim combines these things.”
The couple’s goal is to create a menu that’s accessible, and encourages the customer to experiment with different dishes, especially if they’re trying Thai food for the first time.
Cohen explained, “We want to take a very casual approach. Trying a different culture’s food for the first time can be intimidating and we want the customer to feel at ease.”
“We want to keep the menu small and we will eventually offer vegan and gluten-free options,” Mananya added. “We want to serve good food that not only looks good and tastes good but makes you feel good.”
In the age of social distancing
Like so many other New Orleans restaurants, Long Chim was forced to adapt and change due to COVID-19 and the restrictions put on restaurants.
I was able to dine at Long Chim before the pandemic but, due to the new regulations, the restaurant is currently take out only, Friday through Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
“Since the start of COVID, our business has changed completely,” Cohen and Mananya said. “The original plan was to have our version of a hole-in-the-wall, fast, casual food spot, but two months after opening, we had to shut our doors. Our space is small, with tight seating, and we had no chance of surviving under social distancing guidelines.”
They continued, “We had to completely alter our business model, and are now doing take out only. All orders are placed by phone or online at www.longchimnola.com, and we are currently accepting card payments at the door.”
For now, Cohen and Mananya are trying to make the best of the “new normal”, and they’re happy to still be able to continue to serve the food they love to the people of the neighborhood.
“It’s tough not having as much interaction with our customers these days because that’s one of the best parts about having a space. We are grateful that we can still share our food because we know that several restaurants are no longer able to,” they said.
What we ate
Looking over the menu, I saw a couple of familiar classics such as dumplings and Tom Yum soup, but other dishes, such as the Unicorn Noodles, intrigued me. I was curious and ready to dig in.
I started with some Butterfly Pea Tea ($5), which is a bright purple tea made with butterfly pea flowers. Popular in Thailand, the flowers are edible and are believed to have antioxidant properties. It was crisp and refreshing and had a subtle flavor that I enjoyed.
For my appetizer, I had an order of the pork and shrimp dumplings ($8) that put Long Chim on the map. These four, handmade dumplings were tender and soft served in a nice wrap with pork and tasty shrimp. The dumplings also come packed with shitake, water chestnut, carrot and are topped with scallions and ginger garlic soy sauce. The dumplings are full of savory flavor and the scallions add a nice little crunch.
For my entrée, I just knew I had to try the Yum Woon Sen, also known as Unicorn Noodles ($13-$15) with pork and shrimp. This dish has earned its unique name, because Mananya soaks glass noodles in butterfly tea overnight, dying the noodles a purple color. The dish also contains shallots, Chinese celery, cherry tomatoes, chili, garlic and soy lime dressing. The noodles are gluten-free and vegan if you choose to get them with mushrooms in lieu of meat.
I ordered the noodles with medium spice, and this was the perfect level for me. Mananya likens it to a “crawfish boil” level of spice, and I couldn’t agree more. The purple noodles are certainly eye-catching, but the taste is what stands out here. The pork and shrimp are juicy and tender and I like that the soy lime dressing adds an interesting salty kick.
Finally, for dessert, I was eager to try the mango sticky rice ($8). This is the most popular dessert in Thailand, and Mananya said that it’s usually served as street food. The rice in Long Chim’s version is soaked in butterfly tea, and a coconut cream sauce, leaving the rice an intriguing bright blue, gooey and very soft and sweet. It was the perfect end to the meal.
The restaurant’s menu varies, so check out the website for the latest offerings.
While Long Chim might be take out only, Cohen and Mananya are optimistic about what the future of their restaurant looks like.
“We are unsure if we will ever reopen for dine-in, but we do have some exciting ideas for the future of our space- we plan to turn our old dining room into something pretty awesome. Once we’re ready to reopen our doors, we think the city will love the new version of Long Chim,” they said.
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