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Keo's Thai Cuisine (and Mekong)


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#1 wesza

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Posted 19 December 2003 - 03:44 PM

Sun-Ki: Would I be correct in assuming that "Keo" whom orginially had opened a small Asian Market on King Street that was followed by the first authentic "Thai Restaurant" that opened across the street from the market at a spot.

Previously operated as a way ahead of its time Restaurant that served "Roast Prime Rib", carved to order, together with "Sushi". I generally ate there several times a week until it closed and really enjoyed the food.

The only other Thai Restaurant was operated by the Andersons in Waikiki.

When Keo took the step and expanded to Kalakaula It became what I consider the first "Hollywood West Ethinic Thai Restaurant" in America, with Jim Nabor bring large groups to eat there very often, plus encouraging all the TV Shows patronage and Movie, Show business types like Alan Carr and others I feel this influenced the success as well as the acceptance of Thai Restaurants everywhere in America.

Hope that i'm correct in my assumptions, but i've been hooked on Thai Food ever since my first visit on King Street. It somehow brought the real taste of Thailand from across the Pacific.

Irwin
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#2 wesza

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Posted 20 December 2003 - 06:19 PM

Sun-Ki: Would I be correct in assuming that "Keo" whom orginially had opened a small Asian Market on King Street that was followed by the first authentic "Thai Restaurant" that opened across the street from the market at a spot.

Previously operated as a way ahead of its time Restaurant that served "Roast Prime Rib", carved to order, together with "Sushi". I generally ate there several times a week until it closed and really enjoyed the food.

The only other Thai Restaurant was operated by the Andersons in Waikiki.

When Keo took the step and expanded to Kalakaula It became what I consider the first "Hollywood West Ethinic Thai Restaurant" in America, with Jim Nabor bring large groups to eat there very often, plus encouraging all the TV Shows patronage and Movie, Show business types like Alan Carr and others I feel this influenced the success as well as the acceptance of Thai Restaurants everywhere in America.

Hope that i'm correct in my assumptions, but i've been hooked on Thai Food ever since my first visit on King Street. It somehow brought the real taste of Thailand from across the Pacific.

Irwin

:wub: :wub: :wacko:

In retrospect after thinking about my previous post I remembered that the Thai Restaurant that I attributed to Keo's was in fact the "Mekong Thai Restaurant" that opened at the Sushi/Prime Rib location that may have been on South Bretania not King.

Keos was on Kalakala Avenue, where it was always popular. I'd only eat there when we could find nearby parking. But it was Hollywood West in Honolulu.

The few times that i've sent friends to eat at his restaurants recently the comments were that meals were high priced and nothing special. These were from people who are familiar with the Thai restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco.

So yesterday I sent visiting friends there to try a meal and they agreed that it seemed high priced and not as good as the Thai places they eat at in NYC.

Irwin
I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

#3 fifi

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Posted 20 December 2003 - 06:58 PM

About 20 years ago, I took the kids on their first trip to Hawaii. It was up to my son (about 12 at the time) to make the dinner decisions and reservations. After looking in one of the dining guides, he suggested Keo's because we had never had Thai food. This was the original. I didn't know it was on King Street because we took a cab. The food blew us away! We were in love! On subsequent trips we ate at the Keo's at Ward's Warehouse. (I think that is right.)

Then, Thai restaurants started showing up in Houston. We tried every one and found them ok but not quite like Keo's. No one had the spring rolls that you wrap in a lettuce leaf. Then one day my son was reading an article in Conde Nast rating Thai restaurants around the world. I hear this loud exclamation... "Oh Shit!" (Watch your language, dear.) "No wonder we can't find Thai food to equal Keo's. They are rated the best in the world." :laugh:

On a trip last year I saw the "new" Keo's on Kalakaua but didn't go. Is it the only one left? Is it as good as the original(s)?

I bought the Keo's cookbook several years ago for my mother. It is now in my library and I cook from it fairly often. The photography is lovely.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#4 skchai

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Posted 20 December 2003 - 07:43 PM

Keo's empire is still going strong, but with a lot of changes. I believe that Mekong was Keo Sananikone's first restaurant. It is on South Beretania near Ke`eaumoku. Irwin, would you happen to remember the name of the sushi and roast beef place that was there before? Quite a while ago he also opened Mekong II, which is on South King between Punahou and McCully.

Keo's (the restaurant) is his more upscale place. The original restaurant was and still is in Waikiki - this is the one that got him all the recognition from the out-of-town press and probably led to his book deal. He also opened a branch of Keo's in the Ward Center (the one that Linda has been going to), but it closed more than a year ago in the aftermath of the post 9-11 tourism downturn. He also has a "Keoni's", which serves American and East-West fusion food, also in Waikiki.

The Mekongs remain solid, good quality Thai places at reasonable prices. We go there all the time, even though the level of competition in Thai food in the island has heated up quite a bit.

Keo's, while good, is quite a bit more pricey. Basically, you are paying for the location and atmosphere. The food is marginally different from that served at Mekong - for instance, in their trademark "Evil Jungle Prince", the shredded cabbage that serves a bed for the basil-coconut stir fry at Mekong is replaced by shredded bamboo shoots at Keo's.

As you mention, Keo was quite instrumental in the popularizing Thai Food in the United States through his restaurants and cookbook, so part of the appeal is its noteriety, which he plays up to the max. There are literally hundreds of pictures of celebrities and not-so-celebrities on the wall of Keo's restaurant in Waikiki.

Whether the food itself overrated or the best Thai in the country - I guess that this is subjective. Since Thai food is still usually found in the cheap to lower mid-range category in the U.S., people may have a hard time stomaching the prices charged at Keo's. I haven't eaten at many high-end Thai places myself, so I don't have a lot of basis for comparison. Singha (also in Waikiki) is probably the main competition in Hawai`i in that price range - it's probably more inventive than Keo's, but a lot of people (not just visiting celebrities) swear by Keo's as well.

Sun-Ki Chai
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#5 fifi

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Posted 20 December 2003 - 08:54 PM

Help me out here. I didn't really think of the original Keo's we went to years ago as being "in Waikiki" but then, we took a cab. I am not sure where it was now. It was called Keo's. This had to be in the mid '80s. Is that the original that is still there?

Then, I remember last year, we were at a gas station gassing up the rent car before we returned it and there was a Keo's that was new to me in this esplanade (I think) at this really big intersection. I think where Kalakaua takes off into Waikiki. What is that one?

I am sorry to hear that the Ward's location closed. We liked dining there then going to the shops. I recall that there was a really good book store. That is where I bought the cookbook one year. They had a great Hawaiiana section. That is where I got my very favorite history book, Shoals of Time I think.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#6 wesza

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Posted 20 December 2003 - 09:24 PM

Keo's empire is still going strong, but with a lot of changes. I believe that Mekong was Keo Sananikone's first restaurant. It is on South Beretania near Ke`eaumoku. Irwin, would you happen to remember the name of the sushi and roast beef place that was there before? Quite a while ago he also opened Mekong II, which is on South King between Punahou and McCully.

Keo's (the restaurant) is his more upscale place. The original restaurant was and still is in Waikiki - this is the one that got him all the recognition from the out-of-town press and probably led to his book deal. He also opened a branch of Keo's in the Ward Center (the one that Linda has been going to), but it closed more than a year ago in the aftermath of the post 9-11 tourism downturn. He also has a "Keoni's", which serves American and East-West fusion food, also in Waikiki.

The Mekongs remain solid, good quality Thai places at reasonable prices. We go there all the time, even though the level of competition in Thai food in the island has heated up quite a bit.

Keo's, while good, is quite a bit more pricey. Basically, you are paying for the location and atmosphere. The food is marginally different from that served at Mekong - for instance, in their trademark "Evil Jungle Prince", the shredded cabbage that serves a bed for the basil-coconut stir fry at Mekong is replaced by shredded bamboo shoots at Keo's.

As you mention, Keo was quite instrumental in the popularizing Thai Food in the United States through his restaurants and cookbook, so part of the appeal is its noteriety, which he plays up to the max. There are literally hundreds of pictures of celebrities and not-so-celebrities on the wall of Keo's restaurant in Waikiki.

Whether the food itself overrated or the best Thai in the country - I guess that this is subjective. Since Thai food is still usually found in the cheap to lower mid-range category in the U.S., people may have a hard time stomaching the prices charged at Keo's. I haven't eaten at many high-end Thai places myself, so I don't have a lot of basis for comparison. Singha (also in Waikiki) is probably the main competition in Hawai`i in that price range - it's probably more inventive than Keo's, but a lot of people (not just visiting celebrities) swear by Keo's as well.

Sun-Ki: The sign on the outside of the Sushi/Prime Rib Restaurant when the Original Mekong opened just stated "PRIME RIB", carved to order and "SUSHI" if it had any other name I don't remember what it was. The Chef/Owners both worked at the Hawaiian Village where they both had full time Breakfast/Lunch jobs that got them out early enough to open for dinner daily. They did a good job but appearently were under capitolized.

Keo's original Family Market was open for several years prior to begining the Restaurant business. They had terrifuic fresh vegetables and herbs locally grown by refugees specially for the shop, plus authentic imports.

I still have several bottles from 2 cases of Vietnams most Famous Fish Sauce that I've presented to Grand Mas on special occasions that bring tears and memories back.

The name of the saue is "PHU-QUOC", Fish Sauce and it comes in a unusal appearently hand made bottle with a tightly sealed cap. It was made from a Factory located on the River that was a causalty of the war.

The taste and flavor is much better then any other Fish Sauces i've ever tried.

I remember eating dinner at Keo's with both Jim Nabor , Alan Carr and Cheryl Ladd where she was able to eat much hotter dishes then anybody else with gusto, showing no effect while everyone else suffered runny noses except my wife and Cheryl.

Irwin
I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

#7 skchai

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Posted 20 December 2003 - 09:33 PM

You're right, Linda. The original Keo's was not in Waikiki itself, but on Kapahulu Ave. near Waikiki. It moved to Waikiki only in 1997. Sorry! It is now on Kuhio Ave., near the point where Kuhio branches off from Kalakaua Ave. I think this is the place that you're referring to.

By the way, I got some of this corrected info from the Keo's website.

Shoals of Time is an excellent history of Hawai`i. It was written by Gavan Daws, a transplated Aussie. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
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#8 fifi

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Posted 20 December 2003 - 10:21 PM

I know that this is a cookbook thread and I may have taken it off-topic. But, that original experience at Keo's and our subsequent cooking from the cookbook has been a seminal happening, never to be equaled. My (now grown) kids and I still talk about the original experience of the spring rolls, Evil Jungle Prince, and the pearl tapioca dessert. My son and I had a VERY funny experience trying to duplicate the tapioca dessert.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#9 skchai

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Posted 21 December 2003 - 05:57 PM

Pray tell, Linda, could you relate to us that experience?

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#10 fifi

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Posted 21 December 2003 - 08:54 PM

OK... The coconut pearl tapioca experience.

My son was in love with the pearl tapioca in coconut milk that he would get at Keo's. I had given my mother the book by now but I hadn't read it.

I was just starting to cook again after a 10 year hiatus so I wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. We decided to try to make the tapioca so I bought a bag of the stuff and my usual case of coconut milk on a trip to Hong Kong Market. Now what. Suffice it to say that I had made tapioca pudding before but I had never messed with the pearl type. Do you precook it? We decided not since we wanted the coconut taste all the way through and the pudding I had made years ago was a simple dump together type thing. That was the first of many mistakes. No rinsing. No soaking. As we cooked the stuff in a dutch oven it started swelling a lot more than I expected. And it kept getting thicker. Bigger pot. More coconut milk. Stirred some... oops! It got thicker. And it is still growing. Bigger pot. Repeat the steps above. Send son to store for more coconut mik. (Why did we keep thinking it would do anything different?) We gave up when we had graduated to the biggest pot in the house. Think about your biggest stock pot. Now think about that stockpot filled with coconut flavored paste! We finally looked at each other and simultaneously said... "What the f*** are we doing?" We laughed until we had tears rolling down our cheeks. Everytime we order that dessert at a Thai restaurant we come down with a case of the giggles.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#11 alanamoana

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Posted 22 December 2003 - 07:05 AM

slightly off topic...but Keo's other family members are now growing vegetables on the islands. i think this is part of the good trend of chefs starting the ball rolling on growing hard to get ingredients on the islands. i think they get land leased from the government or something. there's some kind of incentive involved, but i'll check with my mom to get specifics.

i love keo's and that was one of my first experiences with thai food (at their ward location). i haven't been back recently, but i would hope that they couldn't decline as much as places like roy's, etc.

#12 skchai

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Posted 26 February 2004 - 10:57 PM

Went back to Mekong II (sister restaurant of Keo's) day before yesterday. Have to say that the food seemed to be uniformly worse than the last time I ate there - something that was confirmed by a friend of ours who had visited recently as well. Hopefully they're just breaking in a new chef there and things will get better. . .

Ordered Keo's trademark dish, Evil Jungle Prince, which usually deserves its reputation:

Posted Image

EJP is a stir-fry of beef n' sweet basil in a small quantity of very thick coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and chile, served on a bed of raw chopped cabbage. The version at Keo's ups the ante by using strip loin and substituting shredded bamboo shoots for the cabbage. I like the cabbage better . . . it holds up better to the sauce. The one we had yesterday was kind of watery - seemed like the chef had used thin rather than thick coconut milk, and too much of it.

Posted Image

The Ong Choi with yellow bean sauce is another favorite. This one was not such a disappointment - the sauce was well-balanced. However, the tough stems were not sufficiently trimmed off - the large tubular pieces were tough enough that the kids were more interested in playing with them than eating them. Even my son, who usually likes Ong Choi.

So what - it won't stop us from coming back, but we may wait until it seems like things settle down. . .

Edited after gamma-correcting dark image of ong choi.

Sun-Ki Chai
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#13 kaukaulesa

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 12:39 PM

Yup, Keo's first introduced me to Thai food (although I believe Keo is actually Laotian) back in the 70s. And for me Keo's will always be that grand old white-wood building on Kapahulu. All jungly-tropical on the inside, I loved the celebrity photographs of people like Robert Redford who had dined there. Like a lot of people have mentioned in this thread, there is a lot of better Thai food to be had nationwide, but I thank Keo's for my baptism by basil.

Unfortunately, my favorite Thai place here, White Elephant, closed. I am hunting for a new fave. Any suggestions? My barometer is green chicken curry. I know I've hit the jackpot when I find that tiger-striped Thai eggplant inside, and the sauce is creamy.

#14 KarenS

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Posted 28 February 2004 - 11:54 PM

There is a Thai place in the Koko Marina shopping center that I really like (of course I can't remember the name right now!- it is across from the movie theaters). I remember also going to Keos on Kapahulu with big bunches of my friends; I haven't been to the one in Waikiki.