It takes courage and drive to launch a top notch original Asian restaurant in Chicago. But after just a few short months, two young and beautiful Thai women, Marita Tantivirasut (photo bottom) and Asana Nakornchai (photo top), have shown that they have the culinary acumen and business savvy to capture the hearts of Chicago’s food lovers. Bites Asian Tapas, located at 3313 N. Clark St. in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood, is an Asian Fusion small-plates haven that is receiving stellar reviews on social media.
Marita, a self-taught chef with vision and talent, heads the kitchen while co-owner entrepreneur Asana handles the front of the house. Both are originally from Thailand and met at Tank Sushi in Lincoln Square, a successful Japanese restaurant that has been one of their sources of inspiration.
Passionate food enthusiasts, they both believed that Chicago was missing a casual Asian fusion restaurant. What they’ve created is “small-plates wonderland” in a cozy and fun setting. Bites Asian Tapas fuses the cuisines of their favorite regions including homeland, Thailand, with foods of Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam and beyond.
“As far as we know, we’re the only restaurant in Chicago to offer this,” said Asana.
In developing the concept, Marita felt strongly that the restaurant had to be fun. “Chicago people have so many choices, and dining out is a form of entertainment,” she said. “So we knew we needed a fun element, but we didn’t want to become kitschy about it. Instead, we decided to let the food be the entertainment, with fun presentations and great flavors. For the room vibe, we decided to make it homey and comfortable but still modern.”
Guests enter the main dining room in front. The warm fireplace leads them into the bar and lounge area in the rear. An outdoor patio in the back of the restaurant will provides Bites with ample alfresco dining come spring. Warm, natural hues give the restaurant a rustic, cozy neighborhood feel, with a touch of Asian influence throughout. The working fireplace, natural woods and clean, unadorned furniture are perfectly in keeping with these sensibilities. To add to the hominess, Marita and Asana have installed a 1960s console stereo, and they encourage customers to bring in their vinyl records and play them.
Marita designed her menu to appeal to adventurous people who like to try new things and love to share. All of the dishes are creative but not over-the-top. “We like our guests to be pleasantly surprised at the flavor combinations. We’re interested in offering food that stands out because it has sophistication, tastes great and is beautifully presented, not food that stands out just simply because it’s different.”
“Even though our menu is inspired by Asian cuisines, it is not our intention to present authentic Asian dishes to our guests,” said Asana. “We combine ingredients from different countries to create one dish and, many times, we get a wonderful, unexpected result. We think that’s the beauty of being ‘fusion.’ We respect traditions but, at Bites, we try to think outside the box so those who think like us will probably understand our food the most.”
Guests can begin their meal with a delicious-and reasonably priced-specialty Asian inspired cocktail such as the Wassup Wasabi ($7) with vodka, ginger syrup, lychee juice, lemon, wasabi; the Tom YUMtini ($8) with vodka, Tom Yum syrup and lime. The Ms. Gardenia ($7) is prepared with gin, simple syrup, rambutan juice, Midori, and lemon. A robust cocktail is the Gentlemen’s Wood ($9) with bourbon, simple syrup, cherry, mango, orange bitters. Bites’ Asian twist on the tequila sunrise is the Sunset ($8) with tequila, cognac, simple syrup, lime, bitters, and tamarind. Two quite unique cocktails are It’s Onsen Time ($10) with Nikka Japanese Coffey Grain Whiskey, hot sake, lemon, and agave; and the Hot Geisha ($8) with Shochu, ginger syrup, lemon, lemongrass, mint, Thai chili powder (served mild, medium, or spicy).
There is also a nice selection of red, white and sparkling wines, sangria, hot and cold sake, and premium spirits. The cocktail menu is as creative as the tapas and servers are well trained to offer wines, beers and cocktails that will complement the food.
The ideal way to enjoy Bites’ tapas dinner menu is to order a variety of dishes from the six menu categories, sit back, relax and share them among table mates. Servers bring all the necessary sharing plates and serving pieces so it’s easy and fun.
The menu is neatly divided into six sections: Meaty, Under the Sea, Meatless, Buns, Sides and Last Bites (desserts).
Meaty dishes include Drunk Chicks ($7), a very popular dish made with fried boneless chicken, served with Asian whiskey sauce or spicy hot sauce and sour cream onion. Other treats in this category include Korean Sliders (photo left; 2pcs/$6), delicious pork shoulder marinated in Korean sauce, with lettuce, tomatoes, and sesame seed; Crying Amigo Tacos ($8), grilled rib-eye, with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro with lime sauce; Pig in The Garden ($6), lettuce wrapped with pork, tomatoes, cilantro, top with crispy noodles; Bites Wings ($7), Bites Pig in the Garden 300 pixels with bordermarinated wings in Asian herbs, parsley aioli; Spicy Miso Ramen ($14), with choice of pork belly or tofu, and egg noodles, bamboo shoots, mushroom, boiled egg, sesame chili oil; Tonkotsu Ramen ($14), pork belly or tofu in rich and creamy broth, egg noodles, ginger, seaweed, poached egg, garlic oil, and sesame.
Under the Sea (fish and seafood) dishes include Calamari & Spinach Salad ($8), prepared with fried squid, baby spinach with ponzu dressing; Kimchi Egg Roll ($6) with shrimp, cabbage, carrot, scallion, glass noodles, sesame seed, wonton, sweet & sour sauce; and Sexy Shrimp ($8), wrapped in a crispy wonton with sweet chili sauce. The very popular Oriental Paella ($14) is a generous bowl of crab fried rice, egg, tomatoes, and scallion. The Crab Croquettes (3pcs/$8) are prepared with crab meat, celery, chives, honey wasabi cream and cilantro aioli; Tako Wasabi ($6) features raw baby octopus, scallion and lemon. Another house specialty, Tuna Tataki ($9) showcases seared tuna, vegetable pickles, ponzu sauce, and sriracha.
Meatless (vegetarian) dishes include Pretty in Pink ($10), made with rice noodles in Bites’ signature sauce, tofu, omelette, scallion, crushed peanut, and sesame seed. Green Gyoza ($5) features Edamame, mixed vegetable, honey wasabi, mayo and caramelized whiskey soy sauce. A very popular vegetarian selection is the Samosa (photo left; $6) with potatoes, carrot, pea, onion, and curry with cilantro yogurt dipping sauce.
Bites Butternut Squash Soup 300 pixels with borderSoup lovers will enjoy the scrumptious Butternut Soup (photo right, $6) with curry paste, paprika, peanut and butternut squash. There is also a tasty Miso Soup ($3). Salad selections include the refreshing C Weed Salad ($5) with cucumber, seaweed, and vinaigrette dressing.
Buns (bao, photo below left) include Pork Belly ($3.50), Roasted Duck ($4.50); Crispy Shrimp Cake ($4); Avocado Tempura ($3); Chicken Katsu ($3.50) and Shiitake & Tofu ($3). Bites also includes a few extras to accompany the small plates: Pork Belly ($3); Taro Fries ($5); White or Brown Rice ($2); and Extra Noodles ($2).
Last Bites (desserts) are an excellent finale. Favorites are the Ginger Lemon Cheesecake ($5); Cookie Dough Chopstick ($5); and A Mochi Shooter ($3).
The Asian fusion Weekend Brunch, slated to begin in April, will be a delicious and unique experience for guests. The signature item is the Heavenly Pancake which is offered as a Green Tea Pancake (photo below right, $8) prepared with Matcha, whipped cream, chocolate, almond, and green tea ice cream; and the Chocolate Pancake ($8), made with cocoa powder, chocolate chips, whipped cream, banana, and chocolate sauce.
Other soon-to-be brunch favorites are the Pulled Pork Waffle ($9) featuring Asian style pulled pork, BBQ sauce, scallion, and cheddar cheese; an Asian-inspired Egg Benedict (photo below left, $9) with English muffin, Vietnamese ham, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. There are also Banh Mi (sandwiches) such as the Grilled Rib Eye ($9) with lettuce, radish, cilantro, carrot, jalapeno, onion, and Grilled Chicken ($8) with lettuce, cucumber, carrot, peanut sauce. Burger lovers will enjoy Bites’ Burger ($9) with Korean marinated spicy pork, lettuce, fried egg, and Bi Bim Bap Sauce.
Comfort food brunch items include Stir-fried Macaroni (with shrimp, $9; with tofu, $7) with egg, Mozzarella cheese, tomato and Asian style tomato sauce; and Rice Porridge ($9) with poached egg, crispy noodles, ginger, and chives with braised pork belly.
“The most important thing for us is that our guests have a great time, tell their friends, and come back for more,” said Marita. “We hope that everyone feels a part of the Bites family and enjoys the ride and shares the love, as we certainly are doing!”
About Bites Asian Tapas
Bites Asian Tapas, 3313 N. Clark St., (telephone 773-270-5972), in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood opened in the fall of 2013. Co-owners chef Marita Tantivirasut and entrepreneur Asana Nakornchai combined their food knowledge and love of Asian cuisine, bringing to Chicago a “small-plates wonderland” in a cozy and fun setting. Bites Asian Tapas fuses the cuisines of their favorite regions including their homeland, Thailand, with foods of Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam and beyond. The result is a delicious assortment of tapas unique to Bites. The drink menu is equally intriguing, making Bites a perfect stop to enjoy with friends, family and colleagues. Bites is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. The restaurant will open in April for brunch, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Bites Asian Tapas is available for parties and off-site catering. For more information, please visit the website at www.bitestapas.com.
Asana Nakornchai, co-owner
Asana Nakornchai’s quiet determination to make the American dream come true has taken her far from her native Thailand and in more than one direction. Although she is still in the early stages of her career, she has already demonstrated that she is both creative and pragmatic enough to see her dreams through to success. She has also learned the first rule of success in pursuing her goals: follow your passion and if you work hard and make good decisions, everything will fall into place.
She came to the United States with the goal of becoming a homicide detective. “It may sound unusual for a restaurateur to have an interest in criminology, but actually I completed my Master’s degree in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Texas. It was only when I learned that I would have to be a U.S. citizen to become a detective that I realized I would have to move in another direction. But I did work at a private investigation firm for a while.”
Her career got moving when she launched an import/export business and she has built her operation to the point where she can now take on additional activities. “I’ve always enjoyed food, especially great food, and have had ideas about starting a business relating to food since I was young,” she said. “But as far as a restaurant goes, it started about 6 years ago when I wanted to open a restaurant focusing on Thai noodle dishes. That idea stayed in the back of my mind while I pursued these other interests.”
“The restaurant is all about our love for food and our passion for success,” Asana explained. I am inspired by large-scale successful restaurateurs like Richard Melman, but I also want to emulate independent restaurateurs like Franco Gianni of Tank Sushi and Wood in Chicago. I have gotten to know him and he has personally influenced my philosophy as a restaurant owner. I also admire Billy Dec of Rockit Ranch Productions for his ability to market/promote himself and his businesses to success.”Last year, Asana began to formalize a plan to open a restaurant. She had become great friends with Marita Tantivirasut, now her partner at Bites Asian Tapas, and the two realized that they both had a dream to open an Asian restaurant, and that their visions were very compatible. From there, they formulated the Bites concept and launched the restaurant.
Asana also recognizes that teamwork is the key to success. “Marita and I don’t step on each other’s toes; we each have our own responsibilities and we respect each other’s priorities,” she explained. “It works because we have a common goal: to make sure that our guests are 100 percent happy with their experience and leave feeling satisfied.”In spite of her respect for these restaurateurs, Asana has pursued her own, unique vision rather than copy others’ ideas. “I like the idea of family-style dining, which is a big part of Asian culture, but I also wanted to showcase foods from a variety of countries. Asian tapas seemed like a good way to combine both ideas,” she said. “This is also in synch with American dining trends.”
Asana also hopes that her guests understand and share her vision. “We respect tradition but we think outside the box; we are not traditional by any means. Our biggest fans are people who enjoy trying something a bit different and have a sense of adventure.
“It’s a vision that is quite achievable. Asana understands that one must walk before one runs and so she devotes herself to making every single day count. “We love the challenge of owning this restaurant, and it is also very pleasurable, and so as long as each day brings us a little bit of success, we expect that more good fortune will come our way down the road.”“For Asana, it has been one big adventure and she plans on expanding her journey. “We’d love to expand as much as we can. In two years, we hope to fully create our catering and event planning services; at the same time, we will launch our food truck to feed hungry foodies all around town. In five years, we hope Bites will already become one of the well-known restaurants in Chicago and we hope to have our second project up and running by then.
Marita Tantivirasut, co-owner and chef
Bites Asian Tapas co-owner and chef Marita Tantivirasut has wanted to open a restaurant ever since she was a child helping her mother, a restaurant owner in Thailand, in the kitchen. “I saw her happily cooking and the customers enjoying her food and coming back for more,” said Marita. “I wanted to be like her when I grew up. I remember one day I cooked for my mother when she was resting and I got a compliment from a customer. My mother was so proud of me. Ever since that day I was hooked. I knew I would and now I have.”
Marita’s family eventually came to Chicago, and as a budding restaurant professional, Marita found a position at Tank Sushi in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Tank, owned by Franco Gianni (who also owns the popular Wood restaurant in the North Halsted area), was a great source of inspiration for Marita. “Franco’s success motivated me to learn and practice harder on my skills,” she said.
It was when Marita met young entrepreneur Asana Nakornchai, also from Thailand, that the idea to launch a restaurant began to take hold. “We became great friends,” said Marita. Asana, who has an import/export business, also had a great love for food. I had been thinking about starting an Asian Noodle Tapas restaurant, and she had been thinking about a Thai Tapas restaurant. We decided to team up and combine our ideas, which is how we came up with the idea to serve a variety of Asian Tapas,
representing foods from Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, China and India.” Marita, a self-taught chef, was also heavily influenced by contemporary American cuisine, with its global fusion sensibility. Rather than simply serving authentic recipes from each country, she decided to experiment with the wide range of flavors from these cuisines and come up with unique twists that would be surprisingly fun. “We want to present something that is fun and interesting to customers,” she explained. “Small is the new big and I believe that people enjoy sharing food and conversation. That’s the reason for Bites Asian Tapas. Here they can do both. It’s comfortable and casual.”
Bites also has given Marita a terrific platform for expanding her culinary creativity. “Most of our recipes are the result of my experimentation with different ingredients. I try many things and when I find a combination that bursts with deliciousness, I add it to the menu. The food is truly a fusion, not meant to be authentic. That’s why it is so fun and unique.” The teamwork Marita has found with Asana is also a big part of her success story. “We have become such great friends, more like sisters. We don’t always have the same ideas but we always find a way to be on the same path. We treat each other with great respect.”
Marita’s hopes for Bites are high. “We hope we will become known as one of the top Asian Fusion restaurants. We also want to expand to catering and events-our food is perfect for that. Most importantly, we hope our customers feel 100 percent satisfaction with our food, drinks and service, then give us a good review and spread the word to their friends. People who are adventurous with food and like to try new things will have a great time here!”
For more information please visit www.bitestapas.com