If that "Open" sign at The Land of Smile in Olivette (at left) appears to be fading...well, it is. Owner Joe Nanthavong will close the doors to his Thai restaurant after service tomorrow (June 24).
Nanthavong had been been leasing the space at 9641 Olive from landlord Harman Moseley on a month-to-month basis. Moseley has apparently found a tenant (a Subway sandwich shop, we're told) ) that's willing to sign a long term lease. Efforts to reach Moseley today were unsuccessful.
Thailand is known as "The Land of Smiles" and over the last seven years the almost-namesake restaurant produced many of them. Claims of "my favorite in St. Louis" and "the most authentic in town" far outweighed anyone ho-humming the place. And if you've eaten there, you've no doubt encountered Nanthavong: it's his smiling face and demeanor that reinforces the decision to return. Or, now, the decision whether to drive a bit further west...
Although Nanthavong has not ruled out some resurrection of Land of Smile, in the interim he's accepted a position at Fin Japanese Cuisine in Chesterfield. When asked if he'd be working front or back of house, he said he'd "be doing it all," just as he's done at his own restaurant. He further explained that Fin's owner/chef Paul Kulkanjanatorn would like to take some time to pursue other interests, thus opening the door for him. One senses that this may be a good fit, as Kulkanjanatorn is originally from Thailand.
The reader may remember that SLM critic (and Asian litterateur) Dave Lowry was quite impressed with Fin; or that Fin received a "50 Best Dishes in St. Louis" nod in February for its Grilled Yellowtail Jaw.
So will we see some Thai dishes introduced at a Japanese restaurant? Will the word fusion once again mean something new and exciting? Can we interest you in a little kee-mao with your kabayaki? Nanthavong doesn't rule it out (and in our opinion, it would be a waste to not maximize the man's drawing power).
In any case, ponder the possibilities at Land of Smile, beginning at 4 p.m. tomorrow, according to their website. Doors close when they close.