The Detroit News

Restaurant spices up downtown Mount Clemens with top-notch Thai

Friday, March 11, 2005
By Molly Abraham/Detroit News Restaurant Critic

When Thai restaurants began springing up around town during the late 1980’s, our collective palates were so happy to try the cuisine that tested our tolerance for spices, that we weren’t very selective.

If the sign read “Thai” we’d rush in for chile-dotted noodles and chicken satay with peanut sauce, and usually leave satisfied.

Things are quite different now. The audience for Thai food has become more discerning. There are many more choices of restaurants, and we now know the difference between a hastily thrown together pad Thai and the real deal.

Thai Orchid Cuisine offers the fare of Thailand in meticulous fashion, with house-ground spices and authentic ingredients. There’s an elegance about the prepared-to-order dishes served attractively on blue-and-white patterned china from Thailand, with everything matching from the soup bowls with their decorative tops to the oblong plates and fish-shaped platters.

The room, seating just 48, is done up in various shades of orchid from a deep purple to a soft lavender. The walls are decorated with carefully framed paintings and prints of the titular flower, and woven cloths from Thailand are on the tables. And the place glows with cleanliness.

Thai Orchid is the creation of Ray Yang, his wife Soua, and his sister and brother-in-law, Thomas and Sue Vangyi, who began with a spot in Plymouth and then moved all the way across town almost by accident.

Yang was called to jury duty in downtown Mount Clemens a couple of years ago, and in strolling around town during his lunch break, he found plenty of Coney Islands and fast food places, but not a single one that served Thai food.

Although he says that many of his friends in the Thai community cautioned him against opening in such an untapped area, he decided to be something of a pioneer. And he was right. This little place, in less than two years, has built up a real following.

And no wonder. The menu does the familiar stir-fries and curries very well, and offers some dishes that aren’t often seen, such as the appetizer called lemongrass stick, a very time-consuming dish to make. It combines minced chicken and shrimp deepfried and presented on stems of lemongrass with a dipping sauce.

A notable soup here is tom yum talay, with mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, rounds of the ginger-like galangal shrimp, scallops and squid in the depths of its chili-sparked broth.

Those who like curries will appreciate the silky coconut  flavor of the panang curry with red and green peppers, peanuts and lime leaves and choice of meat or tofu, or the green curry featuring eggplant, peas, bamboo shoots and fresh basil long with the chosen meat.

At lunch, the heap of fragrant steamed rice arrives right on the plate with chosen dish, while at night, rice is served separately in a covered china bowl to be spooned out, since the dinner entrees come on platters rather than individual plates. Each dinner is large enough to share.

Seafood dishes are handled very well here. They range from tender white catfish in its crisp golden batter with eggplant, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers in a curry sauce to garlic-sauced white fish.

On my two recent visits, I didn’t have a chance to try one of the three duck dishes — barbecued half-duck, boneless curried duck or boneless duck with vegetables – but judging by the other dishes, including delicate spring rolls with plum sauce, they’ll surely live up to the standards here.

Service, whether by Thomas, Sue or their daughter Sandy, is friendly, knowledgeable and caring. And while this certainly isn’t a fancy restaurant, it has made the most of its modest quarters.