Banana Blossom opened at its original location in an unassuming strip mall in Gretna a decade ago. It quickly became a word-of-mouth destination dining hot spot for some of the very best Thai cuisine in the region. What set Banana Blossom apart then was chef/owner Jimmy Cho’s approach: the use of impeccably fresh local ingredients, authentic recipes, and flawlessly presented dishes prepared with attention to detail and finesse.
Last year, Banana Blossom relocated to a new location with twice the seating, but more than that, the new space is a substantial upgrade. The low ceilings and rudimentary furnishings of the former location have now been replaced by a handsomely appointed dining room with a chic bar area adjacent to an open-faced kitchen. The main dining room has a modern, minimalist kind of Warehouse District aesthetic with off-white brick walls punctuated by beautiful lighting, sturdy but comfortable dark wood tables and chairs, and stylish black and white photographs. In short, we finally have a place in the 504 that rivals The Slanted Door in San Francisco; and that is really saying something about how much the post-Katrina dining landscape has evolved.
One of the first things one notices about the menu at Banana Blossom is that besides the Thai classics one would expect, there are many offerings that venture far afield from the traditional fare—in large part due to chef Jimmy Cho’s passion for traveling and presenting dishes inspired by flavors from Singapore, China, India, Japan, the Silk Road diaspora, and of course, local Louisiana dishes as well.
Appetizers include crispy rice paper pork rolls with Thai glass noodles and mushrooms served with a sweet chili peanut sauce bursting with yin-yang sensation. Pork dumplings are offered both steamed or fried and accompanied by a tangy soy-ginger dipping sauce. Baby back ribs get a kick of chili, and the lamb with Panang curry is accompanied by delicious puffy roti bread. The coconut shrimp is one of the best versions in town; expertly fried, and served with a sweet chili sauce. There are many other seafood appetizers including spicy clams, crispy calamari, and interesting takes on our local “BBQ” sauce—here sans butter, including BBQ shrimp, BBQ fried oysters, and BBQ spicy green mussels. Another successful locally-inspired riff is the boudin pie fashioned out of the roti bread and garnished with creole mustard and pickled peppers.
Traditional soup and salad selections at Banana Blossom include Larb Gai consisting of julienned onions, carrots, ground chicken, cilantro and mint tossed in a zippy rice vinegar-lime dressing. Similarly, the glass noodle salad also includes shrimp and tomatoes. Avocado rolls are a big hit served with a kickin’ peanut sauce. Fried brussel sprouts are enhanced by the crunch of julienned carrots and fried shallots and given a little extra zest with a kimchi chili dressing. The classic Tom Yum soup has an incredible aroma and deep spice, attributed to lemongrass that we enjoyed with the shrimp option. Likewise, Tom Kha is rich in flavor with galangal-infused coconut milk enhanced with lime.
Noodle dishes range from the best version of Thai Prime Minister’s Plaek Phibunsongkhram’s 1930’s classic Pad Thai in town (I mean, they even offer bacon), to Korean ramen, Singapore flat noodles with kimchi, to Pad Woon Sen with mung bean glass noodles, eggs, and mixed vegetables.
The stir-fry section calls out to spice fans. Thai Garlic features a variety of vegetables spiced with crispy garlic and garlic sauce over jasmine rice. Spicy basil is similar; just take out the garlic craziness. As for “Ginger Lover,” well, you get the picture.
The section of signatures includes Ka Pao Gai described as “Thailand Street Food” and consists of ground chicken, chili, onions, carrots, basil and a sunny-side-up egg over jasmine rice.
The main reason why I make the trek to Banana Blossom, however, is for their fantastic curry. At least four different curries are offered, but I never visit without trying the sublime green curry. Back notes of lemongrass, galangal, ginger, shallots, onions, garlic and exotic spices infuse an unctuous coconut milk stew fragrant with Thai basil and vegetables. Protein offerings range from chicken, beef, soft shell crabs, trout, crispy oysters, tofu, and shrimp. Red curry, Masaman curry with sweet potatoes and peanuts, pineapple curry, and the signature Chiang Mai Noodle with yellow curry make for tough choices—my suggestion: bring friends!
Over a half-dozen dessert choices are available, ranging from banana ice cream to fried New York Cheesecake, and of course…roti! Stuffed with Nutella!
Banana Blossom Thai Restaurant is worth making a special trip. Servers are eager and willing to provide helpful suggestions ranging from selections to spice levels, and the service is on point. Best of all, Banana Blossom expands the parameters of local flavors.
500 9th Street, Gretna, 504-500-0997 – Monday – Saturday; Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.