Cindy Chen, 27, of Vineland via China, is philosophical about her new restaurant, Kawa Thai and Sushi, on Landis Avenue. In fact, it's her grounding in Eastern philosophy that sets her restaurant apart.
In her native land of China, one must hire a Feng Shui master to come and check out the property first. Many things, including design, color and even the date and time that is most auspicious, are considered for a successful opening.
When you come to her newly renovated restaurant, a creperie in a former life, you are greeted by a magnificent view of the bright and spacious dining area and party room. The traditional style of the sushi bar with its triangular roof made to look like a house, gives one the sense of being home again.
Six seats at the sushi bar allow the customer to watch the sushi chef perform his magic, while fresh ingredients are on display in the refrigerated case on the counter.
The designer has placed two big boats on the top shelf behind the sushi bar, symbolic of everything going smoothly. A wide variety of sushi platters are arranged, garnished and served on the boats before sailing to the safe harbor of your dinner table.
The menu offers a large selection of sushi rolls, crafted with great attention and care.
Tatami seating also is available to enjoy your lunch or dinner; customers can take off their shoes and sit on comfortable pillows while they dine. Booths also are available in the front dining room.
To make the experience even more comfortable, Chen allows customers to bring their own DVDs to watch on the giant flat-screen television while they eat.
For Chen, even the distance of the chairs has been considered, with more personal space allotted to the special party room.
The romantic party room is a great place to book a birthday or a meeting. It is a place that Chen describes as "warm and blessedly familiar."
Chen is every bit as poetic about her adopted home in Vineland.
"New Jersey is a Garden State, it is lovely with gorgeous fields of flowers and trees," Chen says.
Chen says the local people are friendly and nice, having made many friends in the area over the past eight years.
While working at her brother Corey Chen's restaurant in Millville, also called Kawa Thai, many of the customers who were coming from Vineland and Bridgeton asked if they would one day open a restaurant closer to their area. That was when the idea for a second restaurant was born, providing a convenient way for customers to enjoy her food.
Chen also appreciates the moderate climate of the area.
"The sky is clear and blue, the sunlight dazzling," Chen says. "I love that the sun is shining brightly to make people feel comfortable. They eat happy and I am happy, too."
At Kawa Thai, it is the menu that really shines.
Lunch is a special time at Kawa Thai. Sushi specials offer any two rolls for $8.50 or any three rolls for $10.50. The large selection includes spicy California, yellowtail scallion, New York, crunchy spicy tuna, Philadelphia, peanut avocado, shrimp tempura and eel cucumber. Hot dishes include vegetable or chicken teriyaki ($6.95), salmon teriyaki ($8.25) and tempura ($6.50).
Bento boxes ($11.50) are a complete package, with an entree, rice, soup and salad. Choices include tempura and sashimi, tempura and sushi, tempura and chicken teriyaki, and chicken and shrimp teriyaki.
Chen says that some of the most popular dishes on the sushi menu are the Kawa roll, the money green roll and the shrimp tempura roll.
The Kawa roll ($12.95) - Kawa translates to river - is made with crunchy spicy tuna, avocado and white tuna on top with a special chef's eel sauce.
The namesake roll for the restaurant is a good choice for those who prefer fresh, raw fish sushi.
Chen suggests a cooked roll such as shrimp tempura, made with cucumber and avocado, for beginning sushi customers to get their feet wet.
The Landis roll ($12.95), created by Chen and a friend, Evan Liu, is made with cream cheese; crabmeat; crunchy, white tuna; and special chef's sauce. It has become so popular, this blackboard special will soon be added to the regular menu.
On the Thai side of the menu, Chen calls the Bangkok spicy dishes the most popular choices. Made with your choice of chicken, beef or pork, and served with Jasmine rice, this stir-fry includes scallions, peppers, onions and basil with crispy cups. Also popular is anything made teriyaki-style, with broccoli, carrots and a bed of onion, served on a sizzle plate along with soup, salad and rice.
In a world of yin and yang, patience is a yin trait, and one that Chen has plenty of, knowing that one has to have patience to operate a restaurant in hard economic times.
The reward for Chen is when her customers comment on her big, clean restaurant, delicious food and give her "a big thumbs up."
Yummy lunch specials
Lunch specials at Kawa include the famous stir-fried rice noodle dish called Pad Thai, considered the national dish of Thailand. A long list of curry dishes include green, red or yellow curries made with chicken, beef or shrimp; Thai General Tso's chicken; and garlic shrimp. Lunch specials are served with salad and soup for $7.50 and are available 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays.
Crazy for sushi
Sushi rolls at Kawa are named after famous celebrities from Godzilla to Shrek, after holidays - such as the Halloween roll and the Valentine's roll - and after towns, including the Millville roll and the Vineland roll. The menu offers something for everyone including the Hello Kitty roll, the Spicy girl roll, the Sexy roll and, for the gambler in all of us, the Black Jack roll and the Money Green roll. If it all gets to be too much, Kawa also offers a Crazy roll.