It’s hard to believe that one of the suburbs’ most successful restaurant groups began as nothing more than a pastime.
“When my wife, Sutida, came here from Thailand in the early 1980s, she needed something to do, so we opened Thai Pepper in Ardmore,” says Win Somboonsong, a former engineer and one half of the husband-and-wife-owned Win Signature Restaurants. “The restaurant was instantly successful. Teikoku in Newtown Square followed in 2003. We then combined Thai Pepper with the Japanese-themed Mikado in 2008.” He adds with a laugh, “So, yes, I guess I gave her something to do.”
The indisputable star in the couple’s burgeoning empire of soulful Asian fusion eateries, however, is Azie Refreshingly Global. The restaurant, which opened in 2007, proved so popular in the upscale borough of Media that the Somboonsongs opened Azie on Main in Villanova two years later. “The Azie brand is a European way of saying ‘Asia,’” says Sutida, “and a combining of French, Italian, and other European techniques with quality Asian ingredients.”
Those ingredients are transformed into artful dishes in the skilled hands of Executive Chef Kazuyuki Mitsui. Better known as Chef Kaz, he has worked under Iron Chef’s famed Masaharu Morimoto.
“When I joined this company six years ago,” says Mitsui, “I wanted to take it to another level, one similar to the quality of Morimoto. Testament to this success shows in our best sellers, like the rock shrimp; pad Thai; teriyaki chicken; our duck breast, which gains intensity from the sous vide cooking technique; and of course our amazing sushi.” Wagyu beef is also ever-present on Azie’s menu, usually sliced paper-thin and waiting for diners to cook it atop a hot lava rock—a fun, communal way to dine
Mitsui is excited by the fall’s bounty of diver scallops, which will find a variety of homes on his menu, including in a new dish made with lobster, mushrooms, orzo pasta, and spinach, served over an open crêpe, and topped with crispy sage.
Azie’s global approach can also be seen in its sangria, which changes weekly and is enlivened with thyme, mint, or lemongrass. “Our sangria is so much more than just fruit, wine, and sugar,” says Stephen Deisinger, Azie’s general manager and an alumnus of Starr Restaurants, Garces Group, and Table 31. “We’ll make ours with brandy, aged rum, tequila, or even with orange vodka.” For fall he’ll use dustings of nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, and cumin. “And when do you see a real mojito at an Asian fusion restaurant? Here we’ll jazz ours up with basil, mango purée, and ginger liquor.” Smiling, he adds, “We take everything you know about cocktails and change them to an elevated drinking experience.”
Although the Somboonsongs’ restaurants are all first-rate, Azie Refreshingly Global stands out, in part due to its soothing yet sexy aesthetic. Sutida personally designed the two-tier enclave using exposed brick, polished stone, and threedimensional sculptures. Its high-energy bar and lounge area promise one of the most exciting happy hours this side of the Schuylkill (Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to closing; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 7 p.m.), and there’s also a top-level outdoor deck, open through October.
It all combines to create a refreshing take on Asian fusion. And just like the menu, the partnership between Win and Sutida continues to evolve.
“We pretty much have our roles figured out,” says Sutida. “Win is the engineer, much more practical, number-based, and skeptical. He calls me ‘the dreamer,’ who conjures up a great deal of risky, design-driven projects. Our different interests make for a surprisingly necessary team. But we constantly learn new things. The job description of a restaurateur always lengthens. In today’s world, we need to be social media–savvy and have nutritional insight. A good restaurateur will always be adjusting.” 217 W. State St., Media, 610-566-4750