Curry and jazz match flavors at new Thai restaurant
By Greg Sabin
When Joe and Kai Gilman opened their restaurant, Twin Lotus Thai, early in 2022, they had no intention of turning it into a music venue.
Joe says the business was an “empty-nest” project for his wife Kai. But the humble spot in College Greens quickly became one of Sacramento’s best jazz rooms.
How did this transformation happen within 12 months? It’s no mystery once you know the Gilmans.
Joe is a pianist and jazz studies professor at American River College and Sacramento State University. He toured and recorded with some of the greats, including vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Gilman has released 13 albums since 1987.
Kai arrived from Thailand soon after the horrific tsunami of 2004 that killed more than 230,000 people. Prior to the disaster, she ran several businesses on the island of Phuket. In Sacramento, Kai focused on her family. But now that the Gilman children are old enough to drive, she wanted to re-engage her entrepreneurial talents.
“Kai had several good friends who worked in or owned Thai restaurants,” Joe tells me. “They were happy to share their knowledge, and before long we were looking for a location.”
Faster than the family could grasp it, they were restaurant owners. “It was a whirlwind,” Joe says.
Twin Lotus opened as a straightforward neighborhood Thai restaurant. Recipes are inspired by Kai’s southern Thai roots. The kitchen focuses on sourcing fresh and local ingredients. The food is excellent.
Green curry hits with heat and flavor. Thai chow mein brings a truckload of savory shrimp and noodles delicately mixed in a crisp vegetable medley. A myriad fried appetizers (shrimp, chicken, eggrolls) are what you want when you want something fried and dipped in something delicious.
“We never planned to be anything other than a restaurant,” Joe says. “But we had some slow nights, and they didn’t need me to bus tables, so I thought I’d set up a keyboard in the corner and play a few tunes for some atmosphere.”
Had Joe been an amateur musician, things might not have gone any further.
But this is Joe Gilman, who bends harmony to his will, who captivates crowds with his fingers on a keyboard at venues such as Blue Note Tokyo, Dizzy’s Club in New York, Yoshi’s in Oakland and Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle.
Soon enough, Joe thought it would be fun to have a singer perform. When word got out, the restaurant had to initiate a reservation system and turn over the room several times a night to accommodate all who wanted to eat and listen.
Things have progressed since then.
Now Twin Lotus does double duty. Three to four nights a week the restaurant functions like any neighborhood Thai joint. There are hot curries and silky noodles bursting with sweet or savory notes.
On Saturday and Sunday nights, Twin Lotus presents top-level music. The room has two seatings that fill up fast through the online reservation system.
“Right now, it’s just jazz,” Gilman says. “But we’re branching out. This whole thing’s been an experiment and we’re not done yet.”
In the jazz tradition, Joe and Kai Gilman improvised their way into a unique slot in the city’s culinary and entertainment scene. I can’t wait for their next set.
Twin Lotus Thai is at 8345 Folsom Blvd; (707) 564-3277; twinlotusthai.com.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.