Sunday, February 25, 2024

In Photos: Café Chinois officially opens, will expand by summer

Chinese roasted duck is served with kumquat sauce with yellow five-treasure rice. The full menu is at the bottom. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — It’s been less than a week since Café Chinois — the latest eatery from the Indochine restaurant group — opened its doors to the public. Yet, its expansion is already on the horizon, according to owner Solange “Niki” Thompson and her daughter Marie Bartsch, who oversee the restaurants, along with director of operations Kathy Long.

RELATED: Indochine owner will launch new French-Asian eatery, Café Chinois, by end of month

“It’s in a strip mall, so you’re limited where you can go,” Bartsch said, speaking of Chinois’ location in the former Southern Thai space (3715 Patriot Way) in Fulton Station. “So, Mom’s taking over the driving school next door soon.”

Currently, the restaurant seats about 40 and has a few outdoor patio tables, but by summer will be adding around 30 more seats. Thompson will knock down a wall between the restaurant and where Coastal Carolina Driving School is located.

Interior designer Denis Castro traveled from Alabama to help Thompson renovate the space since she bought it at the end of 2020. The eatery’s vibrant facelift comes with animated purple and teal walls, lime green chandeliers, and a red accent wall showcasing an Asian woman looking over the entire restaurant.

Every square inch of space showcases Thompson’s international art collection, with most imagery celebrating women. “They are in different tones and different outfits,” Thompson told Port City Daily when she announced the restaurant’s opening last month. “It’s mostly Asian queens and princesses that I had painted in Vietnam – some of them are very contemporary.”

One trio of paintings hangs above a marble bar top and features the same image but is replicated in the style of Andy Warhol with bright filters — green, pink, yellow.

Thompson is selling replicates of the paintings above the bar for $250. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

“Mom is selling replicates of them, too,” Bartsch said on Saturday during Café Chinois’ first weekend lunch service.

“It’s a place where food meets art and art meets food,” Thompson said.

RELATED: As Indochine Express opens, Solange Thompson reflects on 20 years running ILM’s most prized restaurant

Thompson kept the Southern Thai staff and a great deal of its old menu, including its well-known Thai Southern chicken dish. Plates of Vietnamese banana-blossom salad, Thai pad udon, Chinese duck with kumquats, curries, dumplings, and lemongrass-pork lettuce wraps wafted through the air as diners trickled in to take advantage of $8.95 lunch specials.

“We brought back Vietnamese crepes,” Bartsch said, noting diner outcry when they had to remove the popular item from the Indochine menu more than a decade ago. “It was too much on our kitchen staff, and diners have asked us to bring it back for years.”

Café Chinois’ menu focuses on Thai, Korean, Vietnamese-French and Chinese flavors. It offers 50 or so appetizers, entrees, soups and salads — not quite as large as Indochine’s menu, Bartsch said. It’s also economical; prices don’t top out over $21 for dinner, with most dishes averaging around $15.

Click the first photo to view a gallery of Café Chinois images — or just scroll down. The full menu is available to view at the end of the photos.

Café Chinois is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and accepts reservations. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Vietnamese Bahn Xeo is a fresh crepe, served with shrimp, bean sprouts, fresh lettuce and nuoc cham. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Diners enjoy a leisure Saturday lunch, where items aren’t priced over $8.95 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Art hangs on every wall in Café Chinois, the newest eatery from the Indochine restaurant group. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Thai dumplings consist of ground chicken, pork and shrimp, with carrots, cilantro, onions and water chestnuts, steamed in a pastry. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
In addition to original art work, Café Chinois features hand-cut wooden screens throughout the restaurant (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Chinese roasted duck is served with kumquat sauce and oranges. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Café Chinois’ interior is bright with color and original Asian art from owner Niki Thompson’s collection. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Vietnamese nem nuong wrap is served with marinated pork, grilled with lemongrass, served with lettuce, cucumbers, pickled vegetables, and rice noodles. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Thompson pays tribute to family, many of whom inspired the Thai and Vietnamese recipes popular in her three local restaurants, Indochine, Indochine Express and Café Chinois. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The bar program features drinks like Rangoon Ruby, made with gin and lemon, garnished with hibiscus, and Angkor Wat, served with coconut rum, serrano pepper and cilantro. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Even the bathrooms are a welcoming pit stop in Café Chinois. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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