Atchara Cooley and her husband, Steve, may have concluded that running a restaurant in Chestnut Hill is even more of a rocky ride than riding an elephant, which they did during their honeymoon in Thailand in 2007.

Atchara Cooley and her husband, Steve, may have concluded that running a restaurant in Chestnut Hill is even more of a rocky ride than riding an elephant, which they did during their honeymoon in Thailand in 2007.

by Jacqueline Rupp

From its modern setting to high-tech accommodations, the three­year-old Thai Kuu, the BYOB at the Top of the Hill Plaza, offers Thai cuisine that’s tailored to the American palate. That probably is due in part to the owners of Thai Kuu, the husband and wife team of Steve and Atchara Cooley.

Atchara, 32, is a native of Thailand who came to the U.S. six years ago. As Atchara recounts, the couple first met in Thailand while Steve, an American engineer, was a scholarship student in Japan. Fast forward a few years, and the couple opened Thai Kuu in 2011 and now has plans to expand to a second location soon. “We looked at many neighborhoods when choosing where to open the restaurant. I didn’t really know much about Chestnut Hill then,” said Atchara, “but I really liked the neighborhood as soon as I got here. The area is so pretty, and I’ve always been struck by how nice everyone is.”

For Atchara, cooking has always been a passion. Upon arriving in the U.S., she first worked in other restaurants before the couple decided to open their own. She insists the only difference from the food served in Thailand is the heat level in the spices. The heat is toned down at Thai Kuu for our more delicate tongues, but for the fiery flavor lovers among us, the heat can always be turned up!

Visitors to Thai Kuu can enjoy a warm, intimate atmosphere in the petite dining room, which incorporates striking design elements like floor-to-ceiling strand curtains that delineate dining areas, creating an elegant cocoon­like feel. Crisp white seats and walls play foil to the dark, rich tables, and Thai accents dot this modern but warm decor. Even though tables are closely arranged, one never feels cramped. That’s due in part to the numerous windows that overlook the outdoor dining area. Servers are extremely friendly and will enthusiastically explain any dish to Thai­newbies. iPads that show off the day’s specials add more visual appeal to the dining experience.

The menu includes a few Asian standards, such as a classic miso soup ($4), dumplings and tempura, but the bulk of the menu is decidedly Thai. Dinner begins with a complimentary serving of airy puffed shrimp rice toast. We began with the tom yum soup ($5), a hot and sour Thai mainstay with lemongrass, chili paste, mushrooms and onions. It was executed very well, with enough spice to keep things interesting but not so much that we lost our taste buds.

This was followed with an order of the intriguing leek buns ($5), served with a sweet soy sauce. For anyone desiring some bread before dinner, this is a nice interpretation for us carb­cravers out there, with the leek pleasingly apparent. Thai crispy golden bags ($8) were next up, with our table dangerously running out of room. These fried rice wraps hold a wonderful surprise, marinated duck, and come with a great tasting sweet chili sauce and spring mix.

Now, while any Thai restaurant should not be judged solely on their pad Thai, it is a prerequisite to execute this dish well. Thai Kuu definitely passes the pad Thai test, offering up not just a tasty and generous portion but also a beautiful one, with the delicate touch of a edible orchid perched atop the dish.

And then came what we had glimpsed online but didn’t fully comprehend until it was hot and sizzling right in front of us. We’re referring to the “Cook on the Rock” tableside experience. First, let’s take a minute to explain. Think volcano meets fondue, and you’ll get a feel for rock cooking. Atchara explains that this is a Korean tradition, which Thai cuisine has borrowed.

The difference is in the addition of Thai­inspired sauces. This experience lets you do the cooking for yourself, right at your table. But rather than cooking in broth like fondue, you’re cooking on a hot rock, and by hot, we’re talking 700 degrees hot! The seafood combination ($24) with scallops, shrimp, tuna and salmon, is a great value, especially since it is accompanied by steamed veggies, miso soup, a house salad and a choice of jasmine rice or sweet yams (definitely get the yams!).

Save room for dessert in order to try the ginger crème brûlée ($6). The ginger is a surprisingly perfect complement to this otherwise sweet, creamy dessert.

The menu is available for dine­in, take­out, delivery and catering, and orders can be placed using the mobile Eat24 app as well as the Thai Kuu app that the restaurant is debuting this month, which allows diners to customize their orders. There are also many gluten­free options, including a gluten­free pad Thai dish. This was extremely important to Atchara, who herself suffers from a food allergy to MSG.

Thai Kuu is at 35 Bethlehem Pike. More information at 267-­297-­5715 or