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January 02, 2012

El Cortijo and Sukhothai Open; New Eatery From August First Owners

IMG_3379After months of whispers and speculation, El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina opened in the former Oasis Diner (most recently Sadie Katz Delicatessen) on December 31.

"It's been busy," says co-owner Jed Davis of the restaurant, which is just down Burlington's Bank Street from its big brother, the Farmhouse Tap & Grill. "We've definitely had a wait list the last few days."

Diners are lining up for a menu of nine tacos. Options include a vegetarian wrap filled with peppers, broccoli, onions, queso fresco and corn salsa; braised beef tongue with shaved radishes; and crispy fish with tequila-lime slaw.

Davis says the queso fundido and Wood Mountain Fish Co. ceviche are hits, too.

* * *

It's day one at Sukhothai Restaurant in Essex. Tiny Thai owners Paul and Pui Ciosek sold their location in the Essex Shoppes and Cinema to Seth and Look-Pla Giffin in order to spend more time together working at their Winooski restaurant.

Seth Giffin, a Culinary Institute of America grad, spent his externship at a top restaurant in Thailand, where he says he frequently served royalty. Thai Royal cuisine is an opulent genre in itself, and Giffin says he hopes to explore it once the restaurant has found its footing.

The chef, who trained for years under Steve Bogart at A Single Pebble and later worked at Royal Orchid Restaurant in Montpelier, has brought in his Thai mother-in-law to ensure that he and the former Tiny Thai staff keep things authentic.

Giffin says that his ingredients are all fresh and never frozen. For now, pad Thai and curries fill the menu, though the owner says his recipes are quite different from those at Tiny Thai. "In the next month, look for very authentic Thai cuisine — stuff that you don't see in restaurants around here because the product is very difficult to get," he says.

Tiny Thai devotees can rely on Sukhothai when their favorite takes a break later this month. Paul Ciosek says that during either the third or fourth week in January, the restaurant will close for remodeling.

When the restaurant reopens, diners will be able to try new "authentic" menu additions all week long. Closed on Sundays since its inception, the Winooski Tiny Thai will now be a seven-day affair, with no break between lunch and dinner on weekends.

Ciosek says many longtime specials, including grilled flank steak and "Waterfall Beef," will be added to the regular menu. Salmon with cashew nuts and seafood custard will also become regulars.

Following the December 31 closure of Bangkok Bistro in downtown Burlington, it looks like Chittenden County is quickly seeing a Thai revival.

* * *

Food-augustfirstFurther in the future, but no less exciting, is the prospect of a new sandwich shop to replace the Burlington location of Vermont Sandwich Company. And it comes with a pedigree. The eatery, to be called Stacks, belongs to Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick of August First.

"The space became available, and we jumped on it — it’s such a great location," says Whalen, who claims the couple had no plans to open a sandwich business until the storefront was left vacant. "The Vermont Sandwich Company was there at least 15 years. It speaks to the popularity of the spot."

At Stacks, the assumption is that a great roll equals a spectacular sub. To that end, Merrick is working on concocting the perfect bread for classic grinders, including meatball and Italian.

The couple hopes that by late March, Burlingtonians will be able to grab hoagies, wedges or whatever they want to call them on rolls baked fresh each day. "The menu will be different from August First, but [Stacks] will have the same ownership and same attention to detail and quality," says Whalen, who adds that some August First breads might wind up at Stacks, too.

As news gets out, potential fans are certain to stack up quickly.


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