Feast your way around the continent with Westchester’s Ayara Thai Cuisine and Playa del Rey’s Phorage ASAP

By Michael Aushenker

Phorage owner Perry Cheung (right) at the  PPLA Food Fare Photo by Michael Aushenker

Phorage owner Perry Cheung (right) at the
PPLA Food Fare
Photo by Michael Aushenker

Pan-Asian cuisine has never been more popular in L.A.

Luckyrice Los Angeles, an annual collaborative feast staged by chefs from more than 20 area restaurants, offers an advanced crash course in this growing culinary genre.

This year’s event, happening July 30, prominently features two Westside hotspots: Ayara Thai Cuisine in Westchester and the Palms-based Vietnamese restaurant Phorage, which in late 2013 expanded with sister restaurant Phorage ASAP in Playa del Rey.

Ayara will be serving chicken khao soi: Thai curry noodles with pickled mustard greens, shallots, fried noodles, coconut cream foam and lime.

Phorage will be offering Szechuan pork and crab wontons (pork, crab, onions, cilantro and water chestnuts).

“They curate a pretty good selection of Asian cuisine,” said Vanda Asapahu, who runs Ayara with family members. “They always do a good job of pairing a selection. But what really brings us back is the host, Andy Ricker.”

Ricker, the chef/owner of Bak Bak in Portland who recently opened the hip Bak Bak Pad Thai in L.A.’s Chinatown, has “made Thai food pretty sexy,” she said.

Asapahu’s khao soi is a twist on one of her mother’s favorite recipes. In fact, most of the menu at Ayara was derived from dishes served by her mother and grandmother.

“It’s what we would serve our friends and family at home,” she said.

This is Ayara’s third Luckyrice outing. The restaurant also participated in Planned Parenthood’s Food Fare at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica earlier this year.

Phorage chef/owner Perry Cheung was also at Food Fair and, just like Ayara, this is his third Luckyrice outing. Cheung said he enjoys exploring the diversity of offerings — including the drinks menu, this year sponsored by Bombay Sapphire East.

Also showcasing at Luckyrice for a third consecutive year is Phorage chef/co-owner Perry Cheung.

“I always look forward to seeing what kind of cocktails will be there,” Cheung said. “It’s a good mixer event — all these Asian restaurants, all in one spot.”

Cheung attended Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy School in San Francisco and started his career as sous chef at the popular Vietnamese cuisine hot spot Slanted Door. When the owner intended to open a second restaurant back East and deploy Cheung to oversee it, Cheung decided to spend the interim year in Los Angeles. That second Slanted Door never materialized, and Cheung and L.A. never parted.

Cheung opened the original Phorage on Overland Avenue with buddy Eric Cho and cousin through marriage Jesse Duron, but it wasn’t his only adventure in the L.A. restaurant business.

His first, R.O.C., opened on Sawtelle Boulevard in 2012 and almost became his last.

At first, things were kind of nice: Cheung said he had relied on locally sourced Chinese food, served Asian food without MSG and perfected Shanghai dumplings before business-related drama prompted him to pull out his investment the following year.

“I was going to give up opening a restaurant,” he said. Instead, he reinvented his career.

Cheung co-founded Phorage believing that people had high expectations given his past with Slanted Door and the location
he had chosen: the former home of Kogi Truck creator Roy
Choi’s Chego.

In December 2013, Cheung opened Phorage ASAP in Playa del Rey, now run by Ulysseus Pineda-Alfaro, the original chef of the popular Sawtelle Japantown spot Plan Check. He describes the menu at ASAP (an acronym for Asian Sandwiches and Pho) as “more beach-
friendly.”

Asapahu’s mother and father opened Ayara in 2004 after a decade of catering from their home kitchen in Westchester, but she didn’t always see herself following in their footsteps.

Asapahu majored in international development studies at UCLA and studied health policy and law at Yale, interning with the United Nations when the devastating tsunami hit South Asia and later working for a nonprofit in Thailand.

Those travels reconnected Asapahu with her culinary heritage, and she returned to Westchester in 2009 to help out her parents “and really fell in love with what we’re doing here,” she said.

Soon her brother and sister joined the business, and then came Ayara’s award-winning sauces.

“I realized there were not a lot of Thai products on the market,” Asapahu said. “We began bottling it in our kitchen in 2012.The first year they were for sale at our restaurant. The second year we began doing trade shows. That’s when we started winning awards.”

Today, the enterprising family has seven different flavors of their sauce in 20 independent stores and plans to expand distribution by year’s end.

“This is something I wanted to do—expanding on what [my parents] built,” she said.

As Ayara’s ambassador, she looks forward to serving mom’s khao soi next Thursday.

“We’re excited to share this dish with a different crowd,” Asapahu said. “At Luckyrice, you really sample some of the best that L.A. has to offer of L.A.’s Asian food scene.”

Luckyrice Los Angeles happens from 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, at Create Nightclub, 6021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Tickets are $88 or $150 for VIP privileges. See luckyrice.com.

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