As the International Express chugs along the Thailand-Burma Railway—into the rural countryside of sugarcanes, rice paddies, through the Folding Umbrella Market and exotic pineapple plantations—a queue perpetually awaits to hungrily board the train for a culinary adventure from Bangkok to Sarasota.   

ALL ABOARD SARASOTA’S HOTTEST THAI EATERY. Spice Station, is derailing some of the crowds from Downtown and attracting them to Rosemary for a locomotive Southeast Asian experience. Also at the helm of Maximillian’s Cafe, Simon Ng Fung and Reggie Tjoe co-own and operate Spice Station, which opened itsdoors last year in an immaculate, modern space with as much natural light as friendly, earnest service. Despite being nonstop busy with endless diners eager to indulge in an “authentically different” Thai meal, the service remains genuine and gracious. “We were given the opportunity to open a restaurant in the up-and-coming area by Mark Kauffman,” says Fung and Tjoe, and without hesitation, “We took it.” With Head Chef Allison and Chef MoMo as conductors in the kitchen and Fung himself as the Sushi Chef, the team masters traditional Asian dishes, but with their own creatively cured recipes. “The whole idea was to introduce Thai cuisine as a comfort food with a little global twist,” they say. And with close friends owning a wholesale company, they’re able to efficiently bring in their Asian ingredients straight from Thailand, to the US. 

The train’s pulling into the station, hop on in . . .

Steamed fresh basil rolls are velvety and crisp in the same bite. Photography by Wyatt Kostygan.

SIMON NG FUNG SETS UP HIS SUSHI STATION. PHOTOGRAPHY BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

 

1ST STOP STARTERS  Get your engines going with Steamed Fresh Basil Rolls—handcrafted rice paper skins wrapped with green vegetables and shrimp in a special sweet and sour sauce—or the signature Chicken Karaage—super crispy, juicy bites of Japanese-style deep fried chicken. 

 

Steamed fresh basil rolls are velvety and crisp in the same bite. Photography by Wyatt Kostygan.

A STEAMING BOWL OF BEEF BRISKET MASSAMAN. PHOTOGRAPHY BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

2ND STOP SALADS + SOUPS   For a traditional Thai salad, order the Sunomono—loaded with Snow crab, calamari and octopus, dressed with fresh lemon juice and a cucumber tosazu sauce. Or warm up your insides with a bowl of Tom Yum Goong soup, chock-full of floating prawns, onions, shiitake mushroom and mildly roasted chili fumet, simmered with lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. 

3RD STOP MEAT EATERS  The leading dish remains the Bangkok Basil Chicken, famous in the streets of Thailand’s Manhattan, with sauteed ground chicken, bell peppers, onions and holy basil leaves tossed in light garlic chili sauce and topped with an over-easy egg. The Beef Brisket Massaman takes you along for a ride with tender, slow-braised brisket marinating in a mild southern coconut curry of warm spices and tamarind, garnished with cashews and avocado. 

VEGETARIANS  Oops, don’t eat meat? You got off at the wrong stop—jump back on and get off at the next: Enjoy the fried tofu “steaks” served with a mild red curry sauce, along with zucchini, bell peppers and kaffir lime leaf, or the Tofu Pad Thai, wok-tossed with rice noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, Chinese chives, sweet baby turnips and crushed peanuts. 

LAYOVER  Fish Station You can’t go home without trying a foreign twist on a local fish—Grouper with Ginger comes pan-seared with shiitake mushrooms, shredded ginger and pickled soya in a yellow bean sauce. And for the shellfish lovers, the Shrimp + Scallop 3 Flavors has your name all over it—lightly battered jumbo shrimp and sea scallops, served with crispy okra and eggplant, then topped with the house “three flavored chili sauce.” 

FINAL DESTINATION  Dessert + Sake The train may be out of steam, and the stomach a full tank at this point, but there’s always room to top off a trip with a round of sake and dessert. Cool down with Tempura Ice Cream. Flavors like red bean and green tea are flash fried, and served to please as you sip on ‘Nigori’ sake, served chilled to counteract the spice of the international fare. This unfiltered brew represents an ever-popular category of “cloudy” or “milky” sakes, coarsely filtered to allow the unfermented rice particles to remain in the sake to increase feeling and flavor.  Time to book your next trip.