The Detroit Free Press

Friendly place invites diners to experiment

By Tracy Van Moorlehem
October 31, 2003

If you’re ready to move beyond pad Thai, this may be the place to do it.

Sure, the pad Thai – stir-fried rice noodles, egg, green onions and peanuts – is good at Thai Orchid, but the Mt. Clemens restaurant strikes an unusual balance between authenticity and accessibility, making it a good place for exploration if you aren’t as familiar as you’d like to be with Thai cuisine.

Everything about this restaurant, from its precisely arranged tables and chairs to its manicured vegetables and mounds of rice, is as tidy as its namesake flower. The dining room’s neatness borders on sterility, but its purple walls, carpet and fabrics help develop the restaurant’s orchid theme and bring it some warmth.

Servers are friendly and helpful, and if asked they will suggest favorite dishes from each of the menu’s sections and help you negotiate the daily specials.

The meal begins with the soup of the day. Our favorite was the rice soup, a thick peppery broth with rice and chunks of chicken topped with a sprinkle of chopped fresh cilantro and green onion.  Like much of what was to come, the soup displayed Thai Orchid’s commitment to fresh herbs and vegetables.

At dinner, three classic Thai soups are also available. The most famous, tom yum, is eclipsed at Thai Orchid by the tom kha kai, made with chicken, coconut milk, lemongrass and green onions. Many Thai restaurants substitute the standard American sliced mushrooms for straw mushrooms because the latter are relatively expensive. Thai Orchid uses a mixture of the two and sells the soup for between $2.50 and $3 a bowl.

Thai Orchid features nearly 50 entrees, including six noodle dishes, eight curries and six house specials, with prices between $6.50 and $7.50 for lunch, and $8.50 and $12.50 for dinner. Without question, our favorite dish was larb, a cold dish that is commonly served throughout Thailand. It’s a mixture of minced, cooked chicken; green, red, and white onions; lemongrass; roasted rice, and lemon juice with a kick. The dish is packed with flavor and served on lettuce leaves with slices of cucumber lest you need something cool to cleanse the palate.

Like all entrees at Thai Orchid, larb can be ordered mild, medium, hot or extra-hot – or in-between. The heat is provided by chiles or chili paste imported from Thailand. Owner Ray Yang said his staff makes its curry pastes from scratch, also using imported ingredients.

We had luck with mild-plus, though our larb was medium and also was delicious. Our advice is to order conservatively, because the heat escalates quickly once you get beyond mild.

Yang said he recommends starting with mild or mild-plus on a first visit and adding the hot sauce that is on each table if it’s not spicy enough. “We want people to enjoy the meal,” he said. “American tastes are different than what were used to. Sometimes when we say mild, it’s different from what people may be used to at Taco Bell.”

Indeed. We tried mild-plus on the green curry, for example and found it to be beyond what our taste buds could stand. This was particularly painful because the dish was so good, with its bright green peas, strips of green and red pepper, bamboo shoots, and chicken in coconut milk and curry that we kept right on eating.

Ahh, the sacrifices we make for our jobs.