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New Thai restaurant draws inspiration from home

Auburn eatery has mix of traditional and seasonal dishes
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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When Anu Souliyonh recalls his childhood in northern Thailand, he remembers his mother’s cooking. “A simple dish my mom used to make was coconut soup,” he said recently. “She made it with love or something. Every time I tasted it, it was creamy, light and flavorful. Every time I have that soup, it makes me think of home.” Two decades later, Souliyonh runs Auburn Thai Garden restaurant and his mother’s coconut soup is on the menu. He grew up in the northern Thai province of Uttardit, about 240 miles from Chiang Mai. When he was 14, a visiting friend offered to sponsor the family in the United States. So they moved to Roseville. Souliyonh worked in restaurants during his years at Sacramento State University, where he earned a business degree. After college, he worked for the Small Business Administration until the SBA decided to transfer the office to Texas. “My job moved to Texas but my dad got ill,” he said. “It was an easy choice between my job and my family. So here I am six years later and my dad’s here with me. Everything fell into place.” Souliyonh honed his Thai cooking expertise in several area restaurants, including a stint as manager of Ruen Thai in Roseville, before deciding to open the Auburn eatery. His decision to launch his own business received a lot of support and help from his mother, who spent about 15 years as a cook in Thai restaurants after she arrived in the U.S. “The idea behind (the restaurant) was to showcase the favorite cuisine I grew up with,” he said. “I eat Thai every day and my mom is a great cook.” It’s a family business in every way. Souliyonh’s wife, Anne, is in charge of the kitchen. She attended cooking school and also trained with his mother. “She’s good with curry,” Souliyonh said. “Her dad is also a very good cook and has a restaurant in Thailand.” The menu at Auburn Thai Garden has both Thai and Chinese dishes, a reflection of Anne Souliyonh’s Thai-Chinese heritage. One of the specialties is Panang curry. “It is southern style, originating from the Panang province in Malaysia,” Souliyonh said. “It’s a roasted red pepper curry, very creamy, rich and robust.” Lemon grass prawns and green apple fish salad are also popular, as well as the fish cakes plate and curry puffs, he said. “It’s a Thai-style samosa served with sweet cucumber sauce. It’s very good,” he said about the puffs. Seasonal dishes for fall include green avocado curry, red pumpkin curry and red mango curry. “It’s paramount to have the best ingredients and that’s what we try to do,” he said. “You’re as good as your ingredients.” As a beer aficionado, Souliyonh has 18 international brews on the menu and plans to add more. He also promotes local wines such as Le Casque, Green Family and Pescatore. In fact, It was at Pescatore Winery that customer Sandra Reeves first met Souliyonh and heard about his restaurant. “We met him helping with a benefit for SARSAS (Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead),” she said in an e-mail. Reeves describes Auburn Thai Garden’s food as “authentic and excellent.” “The service is friendly and personal,” she said. “(Souliyonh) is very articulate and accommodating and knows food and wine. He’s familiar with most of the local wineries and makes knowledgeable suggestions of wine to go with his delicious dishes.” Souliyonh emphasizes the restaurant’s friendly ambiance. “We try to get to know our customers on a first-name basis,” he said. “They’re more like friends.” But restaurant work is a very hard job, he admits. “You have to be passionate about it,” he said. “You have to love it.” ------------ Auburn Thai Garden Where: 175 Palm Ave., Auburn Phone: (530) 887-8696 Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday Website: auburnthai.com or on Facebook