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Erawan brings Thai charm to Oak Harbor

Denny and Pen Sritong hope to spice things up in downtown Oak Harbor. The Sritongs (pronounced SEE-tongs), are the owners of Erawan Thai Cuisine & Sushi, which opened its doors to customers Monday.

Located at 885 SE Pioneer Way, Erawan has already been labeled by owners as “Whidbey’s Authentic Thai Cuisine and Fresh Sushi Bar.” It’s a label they hope people take to heart, truly feel comfortable when they visit, and help make Erawan one of Whidbey’s best restaurants.

Erawan, named for the three-headed elephant in the Buddhist religion believed to be able to fly, swim and travel great distances, is the third restaurant opened by the Sritongs. In 1999 the couple opened the “Thai House Restaurant,” located at 616 South First Street in Mount Vernon, and since opening has received honors such as 2002 Small Business of the Year, 2001 Best Thai Restaurant, 2001 Best Chef - Pen Sritong, and Top 10 Restaurant in the Region.

Food is a labor of love for the Sritongs. Both Denny and Pen came to America from Thailand. Denny worked his way through college by working in the San Francisco hotel and restaurant industry. He earned a degree in Business and Marketing and wanted to own his own resturant. Pen worked with her father’s catering business in Thailand before coming to the states where she began work in Thai restaurants.

It took a chance meeting for their two dreams to unite. On a ski trip to Vail, Colo., Denny wanted to thank the chef for his meal. After several repeat visits to the restaurant, he and Pen began dating. This shared dream led the couple to search for a restaurant of their own, which became the Thai House in Mount Vernon. Since then the dream has blossomed.

The Sritongs followed their success by opening “Jasmin Noodles & Thai Cuisine ” in Stanwood.

Like their other restaurants, the owners say Erawan will emphasize the quality of food, service and atmosphere.

“The freshest and most superior ingredients will be used, and recipes will be carefully selected to ensure extraordinary flavor,” Pen said.

Denny and Pen have created their own recipes from those that have been passed on from generation to generation.

Why Thai and sushi? Denny Sritong is already getting used to the question, but is quick with an answer.

“Oriental food is popular in America because it’s very healthy, so we wanted to expand on our Thai and introduce people in Oak Harbor to others like Japanese,” said Sritong.

While dominated by Thai, Erawan’s menu also has the Japanese influence of sushi and other items, as well as touches of Chinese cuisine. If on a budget, diners will find many items on the menu in the $6 to $9 range. People wanting to splurge can select one of the Chef’s Creation items (only at dinner) from $13.95 to $17.95. And yes, there’s the separate sushi menu with sashimi (sliced raw fish) and rolls a la carte or in combinations from $3.95 to $17.95.

From its conception, Erawan has been Pen’s baby, all the way from kitchen ingredients to design elements. She overseas all of the kitchen creations at Erawan, and makes all of the sauces. Once the newly formed staff is trained to her approval she will float among the three acting as head chef.

In her occasional absence, she will leave Erawan in the hands of three chefs. Chef Oranich “Dang” Thavornsin has been in the U.S. restaurant business for 10 years and previously worked in Thailand cooking for 10 years. Chef Withayanum “Gate” Boonyaharn has been in the restaurant business for 15 years. Sushi chef Patranit “Pat” Jitsopas will add a raw flare to the kitchen.

Both Denny and Pen are quite demanding of the service they want to provide in Oak Harbor. Denny says in Erawan’s first week service isn’t as quick as he wants it to be. He hopes customers will be patient as they fine tune the new restaurant’s system, and train new employees.

Walking into Erawan, don’t be surprised if it feels like walking into a Thai themed dream. After all, it’s Pen’s dream. Erawan is designed following the rules of Feng Shui. And visitors should avoid stealing from the large carved elephants’ offering bowl of sugar cane. Artwork from Thailand and “bright, cheerful” colors help make Erawan a “real Thai experience.”

Denny is just happy to finally be open.

“It’s taken about six months for us to open once we picked our location. Our ‘coming soon’ sign faded and made it through winter and then spring,” Denny said. But for Oak Harbor’s Thai food lovers, it’s been worth the wait.

Erawan Thai Cuisine & Sushi

“Whidbey’s Authentic Thai Cuisine and Fresh Sushi Bar”

Location: 885 SE Pioneer Way

Phone: 679-8268

Web: www.eatspicythai.com

Hours: Sunday 12-8, Monday through Thursday 11-9, Friday and Saturday 11-10

Available for dine-in or take-out.

Dinner and Lunch menues, separate sushi menu and a wine list.

You can reach Whidbey News-Times contributing writer Cynthia Woolbright at cwoolbright@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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