O-Cha Thai Inspired Bar & Grill opens in Damariscotta

Posted:  Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 1:30pm

O-Cha Thai Inspired Bar & Grill in Damariscotta opened its doors Jan. 16. It was a “soft” opening, because owner Pongsakorn Hanjitsuwan better known as Job, and manager Jason Simmonds wanted to get things right before business gets too busy. Now they’re ready for people to start descending on them and trying out the fresh, innovative menu.

Hanjitsuwan, 25, also owns Best Thai in Bath. His father is Chanint Hanjitsuwan, who, with his daughter Thanyalak Rojpanichkul, owns Best Thai in Damariscotta. If you’ve eaten there, you know the family knows Thai food.

The food at Hanjitsuwan’s new restaurant isn’t Thai; it’s Thai-inspired, a fusion of classic American and traditional Thai fare. Simmonds said their goal is to offer a value – to present an experience that will keep people coming back. “We want people to walk out the door, and say, ‘Wow – that was really good and it was affordable.’”

The space at 88 Main St. used to be Salt Bay Cafe. It has been entirely renovated and updated. The new handmade bar seats 12. A half-wall between the bar and dining areas affords a division between the two spaces while still allowing a flow between them.

Two large television screens are often lit up with a movie of a fire in a fireplace, providing virtual warmth and comfort on a cold winter evening.

The bar serves drinks at very reasonable drink prices, and a tapas menu is proving popular. The tables provide seating for a total of about 60.

The menu is full of appetizing options, many with Thai-inspired flavors and sauces. A popular appetizer is the deep-fried Brussels sprouts with a Thai soy sauce. “People who say they don’t like Brussels sprouts try it, and they love it,” Hanjitsuwan said. The garlic pork baby back rib bites are another big seller. And then there’s the spinach rangoon, fresh spinach and cream cheese in a crispy wonton wrap.

Other appetizers include wings with a sweet and spicy chili sauce, fried calamari, bacon-wrapped scallops and Thai chive cake.

There are half-pound burgers, and fries; salads, including one with panko deep-fried chicken on a bed of lettuce, with a house-made lime crème dressing; a grilled salmon salad, topped with a spicy lime dressing; and a ‘Sum Tum Tod’: Shrimp and squid, deep-fried papaya, string beans and tomato with a spicy lime dressing.

The entrees include sirloin steaks with a choice of sauces: Thai garlic, spicy Thai red curry and spicy, crunchy deep-fried basil.

If none of that entices your taste buds, you can get Seafood Emerald, a seafood combo with asparagus, broccoli and zucchini, stir-fried in a brown sauce; Seafood Mango Delight, with vegetables, stir-fried with a spicy Thai chili sauce; Salmon prepared two ways, grilled with a sesame seed and house-made teriyaki sauce, or grilled with a house-made Thai prik-pow sauce, a chili paste commonly used in Thailand. There are vegetarian, tofu and noodle choices, all with a choice of sauces. And there are chicken and pork chop dishes. 

And a good indication the restaurant isn’t Thai, but Thai-inspired, American fare, is a regular dessert on the menu: Apple pie ala-O-Cha – New England apple pie, with Round Top ginger ice cream, topped with a slice of candied ginger. There’s also a New York style cheesecake.

The business is open daily from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.; a happy hour from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. includes a special offer: the BB&B – A Beer and a Burger at the Bar – with a glass of the house wine or beer, and a burger.

On Tuesday nights beginning at 7:30 p.m., the restaurant will hold “O-Charoke Tuesdays,” its version of karaoke, featuring prizes and a reduced price on a draft beer. “Join us Tuesdays and sing your fool head right off,” Simmonds writes on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Hanjitsuwan said it’s important to him that his employees feel comfortable with their jobs, and are happy. “I want the people who work for me to feel the freedom to offer suggestions. I want everyone who works for me to feel comfortable and happy, working in a good environment. I want them to do a good job, but at the same time be comfortable with each other, and be happy.

“People are liking the food, and I’m hoping they will like the place,” Hanjitsuwan said. Just then a woman walked in and looked around before being seated. “I felt like I was in New York,” she said. “And I just arrived from Toronto.”