One Night in Bangkok

April 2024 View more

By Phil Vettel

White Crane Retro Thai & Sushi lands in Naperville

White Crane Retro Thai & Sushi, 1715 Freedom Dr., Naperville
White Crane Retro Thai & Sushi, 1715 Freedom Dr., Naperville

White Crane Retro Thai & Sushi is a mouthful of a name by any standard (although, back in the ’70s, I worked at a restaurant called the Greater Downtown Champaign Food & Beverage Company). But the route that husband-wife team Sinchai and Bee Suptaveeying took to the Naperville restaurant’s opening was as lengthy as the name they chose.

The pair’s first restaurant venture was in Chicago; Thai Classic opened in 2012 in the Lake View neighborhood and ran for nearly two years before it was destroyed in a fire that began two storefronts away. Undaunted, the Suptaveeings invested in Thai Spoon & Sushi in the South Loop (which survived the pandemic years and still operates today) and bought a building in Forest Park with a restaurant tenant. That restaurant, Mom’s Place, did not make it through the pandemic, so the Suptaveeyings took over the space and opened White Crane Creative Thai & Sushi in 2021. The restaurant was so successful that the pair opened a Naperville sequel last December.

Why Naperville?

“We’ve lived in Naperville for about three years,” Sinchai Suptaveeying says. “My wife, since we moved here, loves the city so much, she said we should have a restaurant here.”

A colorful mural

The Naperville restaurant aims for a different vibe than the Forest Park original. “We want customers to feel a different ambience when they come to both restaurants,” Suptaveeying says. “Forest Park has more of a rustic, industrial look; Naperville looks more like Thailand in the ’70s and ’80s.”

The Naperville location’s decor is meant to evoke the streets of Bangkok and, by extension, Thai street food. There are Thai-language advertising signs promoting soft drinks; the far wall bears a mural depicting various Thailand landmarks, from the king’s Grand Palace to the boat-filled floating market. Above the open kitchen is a corrugated-steel wall with neon-lit cartoon sushi pieces, martini glasses, and such.

The atmosphere is very casual, modeled after 90-plus-degree summer weather (if your shirt has buttons, you might be overdressed). Wood tables, bench seats, and bright-orange steel chairs make up the furnishings; ice water is served in steel cups imported from Thailand. (The “retro” in the restaurant’s name refers to the look, not the menu.)

Tigger and Awesome rolls (above), chicken tender satay (right)
Tigger and Awesome rolls (above), chicken tender satay (right)

The menu spans four pages, two of them devoted to sushi, sashimi, and maki options. Of these, the hamachi carpaccio is a visual and savory treat; raw curls of hamachi (amberjack) are dressed with olive oil, chile oil, and ponzu sauce, each curl topped with a sliver of jalapeño. Maki rolls include the usual suspects (spicy tuna, salmon, spider, and dragon maki), but the creative efforts are under the “House Maki” heading. The Awesome roll combines hamachi, escolar, and jalapeño, draped with avocado, striped with wasabi mayo, and topped with dots of bright-red Sriracha sauce, delivering a nice spicy jolt. The Tigger roll is a play on the classic Tiger roll (“tigger” is how the couple’s young sons pronounce “tiger”) and consists of tempura shrimp, salmon, and avocado with masago (roe) and bonito flakes.

Tako yaki
Tako yaki

The other two pages make up the “hot” menu; the globetrotting appetizer list includes Chinese shumai, Japanese gyoza, and crab Rangoon (invented in the United States but named after a city in Myanmar, phew). Best bets are the satay, skewered chicken or tofu (get the chicken, which the restaurant deep-fries) served with cucumber salad and peanut sauce; and the tako yaki, octopus pieces encased in batter, rolled into balls, and dressed with a blend of katsu and unagi sauces.

Noodle, rice, and curry entrées come with a choice of protein and are priced accordingly (though everything is less than $19). Pad kee mao (a.k.a. drunken noodles, so named they’re considered a hangover preventive) consists of soft, chewy rice noodles mixed with a melange of vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and a hint of jalapeño).

There are four curry dishes on the menu; the kitchen doesn’t bother with red curry (generally the spiciest), so if it’s heat you want, turn to the green curry, which has a base of green chiles and coconut milk and is bolstered by eggplant, bamboo shoots, and bell peppers. The heat is persuasive, but not overwhelming (your taste may vary; the two friends who dined with me thought it was, respectively, too spicy and not nearly spicy enough).

Green curry
Green curry

The night I visited, the beer and wine choices were scant because the restaurant had only recently received its liquor license; offerings should be more robust by now. Cocktails, including a surprisingly good margarita and a nice lychee martini, are carefully made and served in elegant stemware—quite a contrast to those steel cups. “I hand-selected those glasses,” Sinchai Suptaveeying says. “I think it gives the customer a different experience.”


Photos: Jen Banowetz