Thai Orchid's name communicates a theme: walls in muted shades of rose and violet, close-up nature photos of everything Orchidaceae and a fresh and clean version of a cuisine both delicate and hearty.
Oversight, that sine qua non of a good dining experience, is ensured by the fact that (at least one of) the owners from the Veerasethakul family, i.e. the stakeholders, always seem to be there, checking diners' enjoyment while making sure that the standards that earned the restaurant a 100 from the health inspectors are maintained.
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And there is lots to enjoy.
On two separate visits, only a couple of dishes left me indifferent. One was the mini shrimp straws ($5.95), deep-fried won ton cigarillos stuffed with minced shrimp that resembled po' boys in taste, egg rolls in texture. Even the attractive presentation in a martini glass didn't justify the price. The other was the golden pockets with curried chicken ($2.95). Although tasty, they merely reminded me of a smaller, lighter samosa, India's famous turnover.
Instead, make lettuce wraps ($7.95) your appetizer, a simple riff on larb that had more ginger than the expected mint and whole peanuts, not ground ones, which would have harmonized better with the spicy ground chicken. Nevertheless, this do-it-yourself appetizer with iceberg lettuce leaves is a lovely light start.
Forgo any complimentary soups that might be good but can't hold a candle to tom yum. Thai Orchard does a fabulous version. It's slightly spicy, tart and bright with lemongrass and mild ginger root, and substantial with fresh mushrooms and tofu ($4.50). Seafood and chicken additions also are available. “Yum” is right!
Break out of the pad Thai rut (if there is such a thing) with pad see eiw ($7.50), a sweet dish of thick, almost sticky noodles. Egg makes this stir-fry rich, and broccoli adds crunch (perhaps a little too much — al dente and undercooked aren't the same thing). They add Chinese cabbage and bean sprouts, and snow peas for texture and color contrast. As with pad Thai, ground peanuts are sprinkled on top.
New to the menu is the Thai deluxe omelet ($9.95), a dead ringer for egg foo yung — translation: Asian/American — with chicken, onions, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts and scallions. Because there is an addition of sweet soy sauce, this is probably a good way to start children on Thai food. There is, however, a limited children's menu.
The classic seasoning duo of basil and chili appear with beef ($8.50) in a fork-tender dish made with flank steak. There are plenty of smothered sweet onions. Visually, the result is a bit monochromatic, but on the palate, just delicious.
Last but not least, don't leave Thai Orchid without having a curry — specifically, green curry with shrimp ($9.95). Green curries are traditionally hotter, balancing saltiness and the sweet that comes from coconut milk. The helping of plump shrimp that tasted ocean-fresh was generous, and somewhere, somehow, Thai Orchid found the most tender julienne bamboo shoots. Those, along with peas and green beans, created a balanced, beautiful and delicious meal, served, like all entrees, with steamed rice.
These samplings made only a dent in the abundant menu selections.
Well, who says I'm done?
Large lunches for two with plenty to take home about $31, dinners about $48, including tax and Thai beer.