by Bonnie Williamson
Kazu, a restaurant featuring Thai and Japanese cuisine, has been delighting its customers for 20 years. This unique establishment in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, has many regulars, as well as visitors who come into this small college town from all over the United States and other countries, too. What is the secret to its success? Longevity in the restaurant business is far from a common occurrence.
“We have a friendly atmosphere and a knowledgeable staff,” says Kazu’s manager Emily Owens. “Since we have been here for years, people know what to expect. They recommend us to others and continue to come back.”
That knowledgeable staff is highlighted by Kazu’s owners, Wasan Ganaroon, who is originally from Thailand, and his wife Kazu (yes the restaurant is named for her), who is originally from Japan.
“They both know about Thai and Japanese food from firsthand experience,” says Owens. “Kazu handled the Sushi bar here for years. She still checks on it.”
There is no question that Kazu is a family tradition for many area residents. Owens, who is from nearby Kearneysville, West Virginia, says her family began bringing her to Kazu when she was about seven years old.
“I would order the Japanese Lunch Box,” she says, smiling.
The Lunch Box consists of California Rolls, shrimp and vegetable Tempura, chicken Teriyaki, house salad and Miso soup.
Owens went on to become a server a Kazu for four years then recently became manager.
While Japanese food is fairly easy to find in the area, Thai food is more common in larger cities, Owens says. In that sense, Kazu is also a unique culinary option.
Juliana, a customer from Washington, DC, attests to what a find Kazu is. “This restaurant was completely unexpected in a sleepy college town. To get authentic Thai curry so out of the way from a big city was such a treat. I got the yellow curry with pork. The curry was spiced well, the portion was big, and it tasted really good!”
According to templeofthai.com, Thai cooking incorporates all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy. Thailand was a cross roads of East to West sea routes, causing its culture and cuisine to be infused with Persian and Arabian elements. Foreign recipes have been integrated with traditional Thai dishes, resulting in a unique flavor that is unmistakably Thai. It was influenced by Chinese and Indian cuisines but developed a taste of its own. For example, curry, introduced to Thailand from India, doesn’t use ghee a clarified butter that originated from India, but coconut milk. Different curries can be found on Kazu’s menu, including chicken, pork or mixed vegetables Tofu in Panang Curry, a type of red Thai curry that is thick, salty and sweet, with a nutty peanut flavor; green curry, red curry or yellow curry, a homemade curry paste with coconut milk, potatoes, tomatoes and pineapple, topped with cucumber relish.
Kazu’s curries are all marked with an asterisk, indicating a spicy dish. Any spicy dish on the menu receives the asterisk, letting customers know in advance what to expect.
The Kazu menu also has a chef recommended list. Owens says a popular dish on that list is duck with basil. The list also includes a seafood bon bon, shrimp, scallops, and mussels with basil leaves, Thai herbs, and fresh chili, served on a hot plate; beef with basil, consisting of slices of New York strip sauteed with chili garlic, red peppers, scallion and basil leaves; and salmon Panang, grilled salmon topped with Panang curry sauce and steamed broccoli.
Another popular item is the Pad Thai chicken, which consists of thin rice noodles with green onions, sprouts, and egg with crushed peanuts on top and a lime on the side. Pad Thai is commonly served as a street food and at most restaurants in Thailand. Sampling this dish, it wasn’t at all spicy and the noodles and chicken were extremely flavorful.
Another delicious dish sampled was the sweet and sour shrimp. This combination of tomatoes, zucchini, plenty of sauce, which could be sprinkled over steamed rice, and, of course, shrimp was mouthwatering. The shrimp, by the way, were some of the largest seen in this kind of dish.
One dish on the menu that can strike an amusing note for customers is the Drunken Noodles. It can be made with broad rice noodles, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, meat, seafood, chili, fresh black pepper pods and holy basil, which give rise to its distinctive spiciness. After doing some research on the dish, there are several theories concerning its name. One says its origins stem from the use of rice wine in preparing this dish, but no alcohol is added in any of the original Thai recipes. Another theory about the name says it was devised by someone who came home drunk and made something to eat with available ingredients. Another slight variation describes using what remained in their fridge to cook a side dish for their alcohol drinking.
Kazu also has traditional Japanese cuisine like salmon Teriyaki, grilled salmon topped with Teriyaki sauce, sauteed mixed vegetables with garlic sauce; chicken Teriyaki, slices of boneless chicken breast, stir-fried with Teriyaki sauce and vegetables; vegetable Tempura; shrimp and vegetable Tempura; and fish and vegetable Tempura.
For Sushi lovers, Kazu has its own Sushi bar with items like in Nori-Maki: pickled radish, spicy tuna, asparagus, avocado, cucumber, shrimp Tempura and California flying fish roe; in Nigiri: tuna, salmon, squid, eel, and crab stick; and a Sushi bar specials, including an avocado cucumber Wakame roll.
Even desserts at Kazu are different. Customers can order red or green tea ice cream, cheesecake or chocolate cake. Concerning the chocolate cake, just calling it that doesn’t do it justice. It is cake combined with a chocolate mousse, sitting on a plate drizzled with chocolate syrup. A chocolate lover’s dream!
Kazu seats about 50 people. The restaurant has two different sections. One section can be expanded for large parties.
The restaurant is located at 120 W. German Street.
So for something completely different, a taste of the far east without going far from home, try Kazu.
Kazu’s current hours are 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday thru Sunday. For more information, call 304-876-8798.