The new year is always filled with fresh starts. I am not a resolution type person, but what I do love about the start of a new year is how full of promise it seems. January always feels like an optimistic time of year. And what better time of year for Nawa (which means “new beginning” in Thai) to hit downtown Fort Wayne.
Nawa is the newest restaurant to grace The Landing, which is one of the prime areas that the Downtown Development Trust in conjunction with the City of Fort Wayne and Greater Fort Wayne have focused on in their efforts to redevelop downtown Fort Wayne in order to make it an even more enjoyable place to live, work, and play. The idea is not just to revitalize the area but to reinvent it, and Nawa is doing just that.
The menu is the reinvention of Thai cuisine in an Asian fusion, which highlights not just Thai food but Japanese, Chinese, and Korean flavors as well. Te Boriboonnangkul (AKA Boriboo), one of the operating partners, said that they didn’t want to limit their dishes to just one style.
“Our chef makes a green curry pasta. You can take the various techniques from other cultures and combine it to elevate a dish,” she explained.
Te and operating partner Prill Trowbridge are from Bangkok, Thailand and managed a Thai restaurant there for a number of years that was a well-known family hang out. They were drawn to each other by their love of food.
“We love to eat!” Te laughingly explained.
Prill and Te also did some work for a Thai steel company and in the process worked with some Steel Dynamics employees who were originally from Fort Wayne. When those employees moved back to Fort Wayne they missed the IT support that Prill and Te provided and thus began the process to woo them to move here. With Thailand fresh in the throes of the Asian Financial Crisis, it wasn’t too hard of a sell and both Te and Prill came to Fort Wayne 17 years ago and fell in love with the city.
The idea was always there for a restaurant, especially in downtown Fort Wayne where there aren’t very many Asian cuisine options.
“We wanted an upscale, refined place. Most places only focus on one genre of food. We wanted to do Thai with a modern twist!” Te noted.
All the owners are long-time local residents and took great pride in the on-going revitalization of the downtown area. They wanted to be a part of the renaissance of The Landing and what better way to do that then help make the Columbia Street corridor a must visit destination?
“We love how supportive all the downtown spots are of each other. The more people that come to downtown Fort Wayne the more we all succeed.”
The menu boasts a number of delicious small plate options including a variety of Bao Buns (my favorite was pork belly, with duck not far behind) and Roti Massaman. Lunch options range from $10-$12 and include your choice of meat (chicken, pork, or tofu) and a seaweed soup.
There are a number of Wok options, soups, salads, and signature dishes such as their Soft Shell Crab. Spice levels range from Mild to Phuket Hot. I tried the Chicken Massaman in Phuket Hot and it was perfection. Just spicy enough and packed with flavorful chunks of sweet potato and slices of avocado.
I literally wanted to drink the curry sauce. (Confession: I packed it to go so that I didn’t mortify my lunch companion by drinking it from the bowl.) They utilize as many local ingredients as they can and will continue to add new dishes as the ingredient availability evolves.
Nawa’s drink selection is just as formidable as its food menu. Ryan Ellis, formerly of Wine Down, serves as the bar manager and is well known for his creative cocktails. He has participated in a number of drink competitions including winning the Old Forester cocktail competition this past November. He was also privileged to attend Camp Runamok, a week-long summer camp designed for bartenders. This is the cream of the crop of bartenders as out of over 1,000 that apply, only 300 are selected. I was excited to chat with him about his philosophy for Nawa’s drinks.
“In the Japanese culture, people drink less, but drink well. That’s what I want to serve. I want to focus on the flavors and have people actually enjoy what they are drinking.” Ellis explained. “I like to take a classic cocktail and then tweak it with a modern spin to reinvent it.”
I asked what their best seller has been so far and he said hands down it is a Japanese style of coffee drink called the Bei Bei. It combines Japanese whisky, whipped brown cocoa butter, and Thai coffee.
“At its heart its an Irish coffee with an Asian spin,” Ellis said.
I asked whether Bei Bei stood for something in Thai and he started laughing. “I was paying homage to the giant panda [cub] who’s video went viral. He was named Bei Bei. I mean a sneezing baby panda. Someone has to pay tribute to that!”
And pay tribute it does as the Bei Bei is adorned with a stencil of its namesake panda.
Nawa is also lucky to have Brittany Pape as the front of the house manager. Brittany was a seasoned manager at Asakusa for over eight years and brings a tremendous amount of talent to the restaurant. Her friendly smile and can-do attitude sets the vibe as soon as you walk in the doors.
The restaurant seats 104 including the bar area and they are working on completing a private room in the basement that will accommodate 55 and will be available for a minimum spend. A semi-private room at the front seats 10 at a handmade black cherry table. The building has great bones and the tin ceiling is the original as is the exposed brick. All the gorgeous lighting, fixtures, and much of the furniture was brought in from Thailand, which is where Te’s mom lives.
Nawa opened to the public on January 2 and has been consistently busy. They share a parking lot for dinner and have access to metered street parking (which is free nights and weekends) as well as the conveniently located City County Parking garage, which is a block away (Calhoun and Columbia Street). Check out their menu and hours here and make sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with their events. Lucky for us, they will be participating in Savor Fort Wayne, which takes place January 10-21st and offers a starter, entrée, and dessert for only $30!