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Restaurant notes: Family Thai, Tel Aviv Cafe, Sophia's

After years of serving customers his Thai cuisine at West Side Bazaar, Pah Du wanted a place of his own.

Earlier this month, the Burmese immigrant opened his own restaurant in Riverside, Family Thai, at 863 Tonawanda St. His spot became the first restaurant launched from the immigrant business incubator at 25 Grant St.

In the former site of Lucy's Kitchen, Pah Du and his family offer a slate of Thai and Burmese dishes with authentic touches. Here you'll find spicier, more emphatically flavored versions of dishes you might have met elsewhere in Western New York.

The place's flame-eater cred starts with its spice gauge chart. Most places stop at "Thai hot," which gives me a glow, but nothing apocalyptic.

I tried one dish at Level Three, "hot," and as sweat rolled off my scalp, was thankful I did not venture further. There was plenty of flavor as well, though. And stuff ordered mild came out mild.

It's a humble place, but plenty roomy, about two blocks south of Riverside Park.

Interior at Family Thai. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

The menu covers Burmese and Thai basics, with noodles, soups, curries and salads, with a few fried appetizers and teas.

My favorite was Burmese egg curry ($6.99), a dish of soft-boiled eggs in sauce, served with white rice. Burmese curry is made of ginger, onions and garlic, cooked down into a sweetly aromatic slurry with spices. It's not necessarily spicy, and it's essential Burmese.

This was the most subtly compelling version I've sampled, perfect with the humble protein. All that sauce went on the rice, and none went to waste.

Burmese curry at Family Thai. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

My barn-burner was yum beef ($9.99). Two outstanding features were lots of tender beef, and lemongrass used as a vegetable, not just a seasoning. It has curlicues of fresh sliced lemongrass, used like a Southeast Asian analog to celery. The specks are ground toasted rice, for more crunch and slight nuttiness.

Also note the chile peppers. (Not for eating, just for flavor).

A perfectly mild but tasty offering was the Kai Jiew ($5.99), a Thai-style omelette with vegetables. Served with a saucer of low-level-spicy sauce, it was a satisfying, inexpensive dish.

Thai style omelette with vegetables at Family Thai. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

Check out the menu:

Menu page 1 at Family Thai. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

Menu page 2 at Family Thai. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

INFO: Family Thai, 863 Tonawanda St. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Phone: 783-9285.


Kosher restaurant closes: Tel Aviv Café by Falafel Bar, the kosher restaurant inside the Jewish Community Center in Amherst, closed Feb. 5 after losing its kosher certification.

Chef-owner Oded Rauvenpoor said that factional disputes in the Buffalo area's Jewish community made it infeasible to continue the restaurant's operations.

"One group might want their people to eat with one person and not another," he said. "The BVK (kosher certification agency) didn't want to deal with it any more, and it became very difficult."

The café's closing leaves NY Deli and Diner, in Talbert Hall on the University at Buffalo's North Campus, as the only BVK-approved restaurant in the area. (A counter at the Tops supermarket, 3980 Maple Road, also provides certified kosher food.)

The Buffalo Vaad Hakashruth, the local rabbi-led kosher supervising authority, stressed in a statement issued Feb. 4 that its decision to pull its certification from Tel Aviv Café "is not due to actual non-kosher" food being found at the restaurant. But it declined to elaborate further, citing confidentiality of decisions related to closures.

"We take these matters very seriously and work hard to avoid such announcements," the agency wrote, noting that the last such incident was about 20 years ago. "We will work to fill this new void in town."

Rauvenpoor said he was disappointed but thankful to all the staff and customers at JCC who made it possible.

On the bright side, Rauvenpoor said, now he'll have more time to spend on his new restaurant, OR by Falafel Bar, which is taking shape at 3545 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, formerly Himalayan Kitchen.

"It's all good," he said. "It'll give me more time to focus on my new venture, and be myself with no limits."

Sophia's closed Sundays: For a couple of weeks now, faithful Sophia's customers who dragged themselves out of bed early on Sunday to avoid the line at the popular Military Road breakfast spot, found it closed without notice.

Turns out it's for a good reason, not a bad one: owner Sam Doherty wanted to spend more time with his children.

"I decided to close Sundays, at least for the rest of the winter, to be with my family," he said. "I have two kids and a third on the way, and I never get to wake up with my children, and it's taking a toll on me. At least one day I can be a father in the morning."

His restaurant, 749 Military Road, is open Monday through Saturday now, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was previously closed Mondays.

He plans to reopen on Sundays eventually, with a light brunch menu, he said. "But with the weather the way it is now, I'm going to take a few months of Sundays, and relax."

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