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Aaron Deacon

Thai Orchid Dinner [KC]

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Last Thursday night I had the pleasure of convening some KC local eGulleteers, Chowhounds, and LTHers for an “authentic” Thai-style meal.

The impetus for choosing this restaurant was mostly proximity. When I moved in last fall, I noticed Thai Orchid a few blocks away and checked out the website. I sent an email, and several exchanges and a few months later, there we were.

I had sent to the owner of Thai Orchid, Wilai Rojjana (a delightful woman, by the way), a menu from a meal I had eaten at TAC Quick last summer, not so much to replicate that meal, but to convey the seriousness of my desire for the goodness of full-on Thai funk, heat, et al.

After I convinced her that yes, I did like nam phrik, she gave me a menu, I got some interested folks to agree to join me as guinea pigs.

All in all, the meal was quite a success.

The menu (I've used Wilai's spellings):

tod po pia – Thai spring rolls, seemed pretty standard to me, fine but not particularly noteworthy.

som tum – We were given two papaya salads, on one northern-style (which she also called Isaan-style or Thai-style, pictured) and one central-style (which was also called Lao-style).

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I really appreciated the opportunity to try both. The northern-style had considerably more chili heat—hottest dish of the night, in fact—and the central-style had a sweeter character. Neither had much fish flavor…no pickled crab or dried shrimp, for example.

This is as good a place as any to note my biggest logistical misstep: all the dishes were served, basically, at once. This made it quite impossible to try everything while hot, and quite difficult to devote attention to any one dish before moving on to the next, or maintain much balance in the meal. Next time I’d request a little more staggering of dishes.

lab moo – Pork laab (minced pork “salad”). This was the largest mound of laab I’ve ever seen served on one plate. Pretty good. I admittedly get a little confused with the range of dressings on this and similar Thai dishes. I was expecting a little more heat, a more piquant sauce (fish sauce, lime juice) and the textural contrast of toasted rice powder. But I don’t know if a) I’m confusing my expectation with similar-style dishes or b) these elements were there, and I missed them. This is a good example of how the quickness of the meal and all the dishes served at once means I’m offering somewhat fleeting impressions.

sai grog esan – Esan/Isaan sausage, served with sliced Thai chilis and sliced ginger. (Also sometimes served with nuts.) I enjoyed this. I love that Thai menus have a category basically called “drinking foods,” and Isaan sausage is a particular favorite. This was a pretty fine textured, slightly dry version. Not particularly funky with fermented flavor, but some for sure. These were purchased someplace at City Market (I think, didn’t catch the name), but Wilai said she prefers sausages that she gets from a local Laotian woman who makes them at home. I’d love to try this.

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pla chu chee – Fish with chili sauce (catfish, I believe). The catfish was breaded, fried, and coated with a sweetish, slightly sour and fairly mild chili sauce. I thought the fish was cooked quite well and was very pleased to have a meaty, fish preparation on the table. Not quite sure what the difference is between this and the pla lard prig on the regular seafood menu.

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kai yang – Grilled chicken, cut up, with a Thai-flavor marinade, a simple kind of dish that seems so inoffensive yet so tasty that I’m not sure why dishes like this aren’t offered up more frequently and more often associated with Thai food.

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nam prig platu – Shrimp paste dip, mackerel, veggies…perhaps my favorite dish of the night, though it still seemed a bit muted. That was fine because nam phrik is pretty powerful stuff. I thought the mackerel was excellent.

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po tak – Seafood combination soup (“Thai bouillabaisse”). When this came to the table, it had a little warming fire beneath it, making me feel comfortable ignoring the raves around me, holding off on the soup, figuring it would still be warm when I got to it. Unfortunately, the fire went out, and my soup was lukewarm. And it was still pretty darn good. Very rich-flavored broth accented by the brightness of lemongrass and basil.

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sa koo tua dum – Tapioca, black bean, and coconut pudding…a surprise dessert, and to my palate, the most deliciously surprising dish of the night. I’ve had mixed luck with Thai desserts and with bean desserts. I had asked about sticky rice and mango, but Wilai said the available mangoes weren’t right (though come back for the Thai New Year meal April 13th). I’m glad they weren’t. The beans and tapioca combined to give this pudding a smooth and delicate texture, the coconut and sugar adding the right amount of sweetness.

Some impressions of the meal as a whole…

I was quite happy that Wilai and the staff at Thai Orchid agreed to prepare this meal for us, and I hope for the opportunity to do something similar in the future. There are two standards by which I’ve been evaluating this meal. By KC standards (my own KC standards, which are new to me and a work in progress), I was quite happy and will certainly return, with a goal of making this food more easily accessible.

By the standard of some of the top places in Chicago (for example) where most of my Thai experience lies, well, I guess I can say that I still look forward to returning to Chicago for Thai food too. I had a meal last night at Aroy Thai which, again, just blew me away. I’ll link when a report is available.

The northern Thai-style som tum was the only dish that really registered much on the heat meter for me (and did so quite admirably, to be sure). The fish flavors seemed a bit muted, whether the fish sauce in the dressings on the som tum or laab moo or the nam phrik or even the fish itself. The overall funk factor was lower than I had thought it might be.

There are also certain dishes that are difficult for Thai Orchid to prepare, especially on this kind of scale. They were stepping out of their comfort zone to prepare a meal like this for us, and for that I would rather applaud than criticize them. They don’t regularly stock green papaya; the supplies of Thai sausage in the city are limited; the kitchen isn’t set up to prepare sticky rice for 12. I’d never seen sticky rice served in plastic wrap packets (though I have in banana leaves). Within these limitations, I was quite pleased with Thai Orchid’s execution. They definitely went above and beyond to prepare a special meal for us, and I had a good meal and a great time, and met some great fellow food lovers in KC:

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Perhaps my favorite part of the evening was meeting two other random food geeks in the restaurant. About three quarters through the meal, a guy came up to the table and announced something like, “My name is Danny. I’m Thai. I love food.” And asked if he could join our group, eager to tap into what (thankfully) must have appeared a pretty appealing situation.

And as we were finishing our meal a woman approached us with her husband, she’s a Chowhound lurker recently moved to KC, and gave us her card to contact for future events. Ah, future events. We’re in pretty good shape, Thai and otherwise.

(For anyone looking for a little more of a Thai food primer, for sure poke around LTH and Chowhound Chicago threads circa 2003, searching for threads on Spoon Thai, TAC Quick, Sticky Rice, and Aroy Thai for starters. Also check out Erik M.’s website and various Thai posts and menus here. Good stuff.)

P.S. Not all of these dishes are available on Thai Orchid's regular menu. I believe the soup, pork laab, and grilled chicken are, though not sure if the farang preparation is much different than what we got. It very well might be. I need to get info from Wilai on how one might actually go to the restaurant and get food like this.

Also, we are likely to get together for future meals, so please drop me an email or PM if you're interested.

Aaron

LTHForum KC Index

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Dayum! What a fantastic-looking meal! And it looks like you had a substantial group in attendance, too. It's great to have so many food lovers on hand so that you can try that many more dishes. All in the name of research, I say :rolleyes::biggrin:

How did the sai grog esan compare to those found here in Chicago? Did they remind you of any particular versions available Chicago. The thought of getting a homemade version, made by a Laotian woman in her home, sounds utterly compelling.

And that Danny, whoever he may be, appears to have been the luckiest person in KC that day. He would have been well served to leave that dinner after it ended and immediately buy a lottery ticket. :wink:

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I'm not certain I can add anything of substance to Aaron's account. I've eaten Thai in purportedly authentic restaurants in various other cities but have grown to accept that it is unlikely to occur here. This meal was a treat for that reason, but it wasn't as far-off the regular menu as I had expected (with some concern, since the SO doesn't have an asbestos palate). Still all very flavorful, fresh and well prepared by a staff that seemed somewhat amazed that "gringos" were lapping it up. Wiliai went around the table asking for impressions, always throwing in "that's not too hot?" or "not too strong?" as if in disbelief. I think if we went there again in the not too distant future, we'd get more adventurous dishes having proven ourselves up to the task.

And, Aaron, I'm not sure any of us would have anticipated getting everything simultaneously, so don't beat yourself up about that. It will remain an amusing anecdote in the lore of KC events :wink: Thanks for taking the initiative to set this up.

I have heard from Lucky Danny already and he is anxious to join us at the table next time around, so I'm sure we have a new addition to the group (and an expert at that). And a good time was had by all.

Edited to remove non-word. :shock:


Edited by moosnsqrl (log)

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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My memory for specific dishes at specific restaurants at Chicago Thai places is a little sketchy. I didn't like the sai krawk as much as Chicago stuff, generally. I want to say it is more similar to that at Sticky Rice, which I don't care for as much as that at Spoon or TAC Quick. But I'm not 100% on that.

I agree with moosnsqrl that this was not quite as far off the menu as I had hoped for, but a game effort nonetheless. Baby steps.

Interestingly, talking with our Chicago Thai guru Erik M. last night, he advised that everything arriving at once is pretty authentic, and you really do have to make a special request if you want stuff spaced out.

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Can you introduce the participants in the picture, although some I do recognize from having spent fun times in KC.


It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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Can you introduce the participants in the picture, although some I do recognize from having spent fun times in KC.

I don't want to out anyone who doesn't want to be outed, but I'm four back on the left.

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Thanks again for putting this together. It was a great way to try a variety of different kinds of dishes, and it's fun getting to sit down at a table with people who genuinely love food (a sentiment sadly lacking in most of my freinds these days).

I thought it was interesting the way the staff seemed so suprised that we enjoyed some of these dishes - I agree that nothing they served was really that "out there," and it was delicious across the board. Especially that dessert - so comforting yet luxurious at the same time.

A++, would eat again. :raz:


"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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Dang! I didn't get that there were two papaya salads... we had one at our end of the table, and I just assumed there was more of the same down at the other end.

Thanks, Aaron, for pulling this together. I had a blast, and it was wonderful chatting up other foodies. Looking forward to the next gathering!


Come visit my virtual kitchen.

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Is this the restaurant in Mission?

The SO and I went to a Thai Orchard in Mission last week and we were very pleased. We especially loved the beef salad.

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Yes, it's on Broadmoor.


Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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The SO and I went to a Thai Orchard in Mission last week and we were very pleased. We especially loved the beef salad.

A well made beef salad is truly a thing of beauty. Did you go for the Thai New Year festivities? I had really planned to check this out, but things got in the way. I believe they had a special menu available last week.

Aaron

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The SO and I went to a Thai Orchard in Mission last week and we were very pleased. We especially loved the beef salad.

A well made beef salad is truly a thing of beauty. Did you go for the Thai New Year festivities? I had really planned to check this out, but things got in the way. I believe they had a special menu available last week.

Aaron

Apparently, I missed the Thai New Year Menu. When we went, we were just looking for a good place to eat without driving too far (American Idol was coming on in an hour.) We just moved to the area from Phoenix, and the first Thai place we tried was on Pennsylvania (in fact, I think it's called Thai Place.) It was ok, but I was displeased with the service. So when we went to Thai Orchid, we were definitely looking forward trying

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The SO and I went to a Thai Orchard in Mission last week and we were very pleased. We especially loved the beef salad.

A well made beef salad is truly a thing of beauty. Did you go for the Thai New Year festivities? I had really planned to check this out, but things got in the way. I believe they had a special menu available last week.

Aaron

Apparently, I missed the Thai New Year Menu. When we went, we were just looking for a good place to eat without driving too far (American Idol was coming on in an hour.) We just moved to the area from Phoenix, and the first Thai place we tried was on Pennsylvania (in fact, I think it's called Thai Place.) It was ok, but I was displeased with the service and prices. So when we went to Thai Orchid, we were looking forward to finding a different restuarant to satisfy our Thai cravings. It was more than acceptable, and it's nice to hear others enjoy it as well.

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