Chef Paul Singhapong has had a long and glorious career, bouncing from the fine dining world (Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, French Room, Brasserie Savoy in San Francisco) to ethnic restaurants such as Malai Kitchen and his own Bay Leaf in Dallas. For the past few years, he's been taking a break, emerging only to cook random special dinners.
It would have to take something pretty special to drag him out of retirement.
Something like Thai street food. Served in a central Dallas location — somewhere that can swing with late-night hours and an audience of adventurous diners.
"I want to do food that's cheap but good," says Crush Craft chef Paul Singhapong. "Dallas doesn't have enough of that."
Enter CrushCraft, opening in December in the Quadrangle in the old Baker Bros American Deli location. That's where "Chef Paul" will serve scratch rice and noodle dishes, curries, grilled specialties like satay, and the signature papaya salad, priced on the cheap just as it is on the streets of Bangkok.
Singhapong got pulled back into the game by his friend Jack Nuchkasem, who wanted to work on a restaurant together. Singhapong had already covered a wide culinary turf, but he still had a yen to do the street food concept, with impeccably made food priced from $7 to $8.
"I want to do food that's cheap but good," Singhapong says. "Dallas doesn't have enough of that. I also wanted to bring a concept that was unique but not intimidating. I've enjoyed pushing the envelope at some of these exhibition dinners, and those have been well-received."
At one recent such dinner, he served oysters on the half shell, prawn and mint ceviche, and fish head soup.
As for Nuchkasem, this former food and beverage director for Omni has extensive hospitality experience. But he'd reached that point where he wanted his own place.
Now he's all in, with a no-expense-spared redo of the old Baker Bros to be executed by restaurant designer of the hour, Jones Baker. They're knocking down the walls for an open kitchen. The row of windows currently facing the Quadrangle courtyard will be replaced by slider doors that are open more often than closed, adding a refreshing indoor-outdoor ambience.
The restaurant will be open until 3 or 4 in the morning, and there will always be an avant-garde special to try — but executed with the high standards that Chef Paul has always maintained.
As for the name, Nuchkasem says it refers to the mortar and pestle that Chef Paul uses for his papaya salad, as well as the across-the-board hand-crafted approach they'll take to the food.